NASA Remotely Operates the First Helicopter Flight on Mars
Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in U.S. have successfully flown a helicopter, or more specifically, a rotorcraft, in the sky over Mars for the first time ever.
Named Ingenuity, the rotorcraft was airborne for less than a minute, but the fact that scientists were able to fly a controlled aircraft on another planet, where atmospheric density is just 1% that of the Earth, is a major breakthrough in space exploration.
The rotorcraft was sent on its way to Mars in July 2020, attached to a rover named Perseverance, which landed on the red planet in February.
“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet. … We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is,” MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at the space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory, told BBC News. “We’ve gone from ‘theory says you can’ to really now having done it. It’s a major first for the human race.”
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Bob Balaram, an Indian-origin scientist and alumnus of IIT, Madras, was the project’s chief engineer. He says Ingenuity‘s success “basically opens up a whole new dimension of exploring Mars.”
The rotorcraft’s mission is independent of the rover’s. Perseverance‘s mission is to look for signs of ancient life on Mars and to bring back rock-and-sediment samples from the red planet. The mission of Ingenuity, however, is much more of a physics experiment to inform future expeditions by enabling scientists to design helicopters that could, among other things, help them explore steep or slippery terrains that rovers cannot access.
“We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said in a statement.
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