During the wee hours of April 19, 2021, NASA became the first to fly an object on the surface of another planet. It’s the equivalent of the historic first flight of the Wright Brothers! Ingenuity climbed to approximately ten feet and hovered there for five seconds, turned about 90 degrees to one side, hovered for about thirty seconds more, and made its gentle descent (ahem) back to the ground.
The newly-released footage was taken by the Mastcam-Z cameras on NASA’s Perseverance rover, which was standing by a couple of hundred feet away. The team is now ready to push boundaries with “increasingly difficult” flights.
“We are going to continually push all the way to the limit of this rotocraft.”
Why is the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first flight such a big deal? Because sustaining flight on a planet with little to no atmosphere is a difficulty thing to do. Helicopters must generate a force called lift which means it needs an atmosphere to fly. Mars has an atmosphere, but it is much thinner than the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA scientists were able to develop Ingenuity using a pressurized room that simulates Mars’ atmosphere.
And then there’s Martian gravity to consider. It’s about one-third the strength of Earth’s which actually makes flying a bit easier. Still, scientists say flying Ingenuity on Mars is the equivalent of flying a helicopter at 100,000 feet. Airplanes fly at 40,000 feet and the highest a helicopter has ever flown is 42,000 feet.