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Nasa's Mars helicopter makes history with successful flight on Red Planet

19 April 2021 - 14:17 By Reuters
Nasa's Mars helicopter Ingenuity starts its first flight on Mars in this still image taken from a video on April 19 2021.
Nasa's Mars helicopter Ingenuity starts its first flight on Mars in this still image taken from a video on April 19 2021.
Image: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/ASU/Handout via REUTERS

Nasa's miniature robot helicopter Ingenuity performed a successful take-off and landing on Mars earlier on Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft over the surface of another planet, the US space agency said.

The solar-powered whirligig's debut on the Red Planet marked a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment for Nasa, which said success could pave the way for new modes of exploration on Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus and Saturn's moon Titan.

Mission managers at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as engineering data beamed back from Mars confirmed that the 1.8kg twin-rotor helicopter had performed its maiden 40-second flight as planned about three hours earlier.

The robot rotorcraft was programmed to ascend 3m straight up, then hover and rotate in place over the Martian surface for half a minute before settling back down on its four legs. JPL officials said data returned from Mars showed that this had occurred.

During Nasa's own coverage of the event, livestreamed from JPL headquarters, Nasa also displayed the first images from the flight.

A black-and-white photo taken by a downward-pointing onboard camera while the helicopter was aloft showed the shadow cast by Ingenuity in the Martian sunlight onto the ground just below it.

A snippet of colour video footage captured by a separate camera mounted on the Nasa's Mars rover Perseverance, parked about 65m away, showed the helicopter in flight against the orange-coloured landscape surrounding it.

“We can now say that human beings have flown an aircraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL.


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