Joe Mario Pedersen
Early Monday morning, a team of NASA scientists awaited the results of its first attempt to fly a vehicle off the surface of Mars.
The room was quiet as the data from over 178 million miles away was swiftly downloaded, then revealing an image of the first controlled flight of a vehicle on another planet.
The NASA Jet Propulsion Lab team in southern California exploded in applause at the sight of a tiny helicopter spinning above the dusty planet, crossing off another successful milestone from the $80 million checklist.
The helicopter, Ingenuity, flew up six meters and hovered off the red planet’s surface at around 3:30 a.m. eastern time.
The flight is one of five test missions the agency has planned and is an important technology demonstration for future flights. The milestone came as a difficult challenge since Mars is less then 1% of Earth’s atmosphere. In order to generate enough lift, the tiny 4-pound helicopter’s roto system spun over 2,500 revolutions per minute. On top of that, Ingenuity was expected to perform tasks autonomously such as keeping itself warm in Mars’ -130 Fahrenheit nights.
It performed that successfully, too.
The tiny but mighty helicopter successfully took off from NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, back in February when it initially landed in the ancient Jezero Crater, which is about 750 miles across. Monday’s successful mission wasn’t the first attempt at flight. The original mission was scheduled for April 11, but was pushed back a couple times as teams worked to troubleshoot issues ahead of its first otherworldly flight.
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