A small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity made space exploration history on Monday when it lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered in the wispy air of the red planet. It was the first machine from Earth ever to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world.
The achievement extends NASA’s long, exceptional record of firsts on Mars.
“We together flew at Mars,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said to her team during the celebration. “And we together now have this Wright brothers moment.”
Ingenuity was also something different for NASA — a high-risk, high-reward project with a modest price tag where failure was an acceptable outcome.
That approach is more similar to that of nimble space companies like SpaceX than large traditional development programs that work through every possible contingency to build a full-scale machine that has to work the first time.
Ingenuity was thus a small experiment tacked onto NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance but it has the potential for a paradigm-breaking advance.
Havard Grip, the engineer who serves as NASA’s chief pilot for Ingenuity, announced as the data arrived that the helicopter had completed “the first powered flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.”
NASA officials said they have named the airstrip where Ingenuity took off and landed Wright Brothers Field. A small piece of fabric from the original Wright airplane was glued to Ingenuity and sent to Mars.
The United Arab Emirates’s Hope probe also arrived at Mars two months ago. After a firing of its thrusters on March 29, it has entered into an orbit where it can begin a close study of the planet’s atmosphere and weather. That phase of scientific research was scheduled to begin last Wednesday.
Courtesy: NY TIMES