Monday, April 22, 2024

NASA makes history with first powered flight on Mars

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Early this morning, scientists at NASA confirmed that they have made history once again.

At 3:46 a.m. Pacific Time, the team behind Ingenuity, a helicopter drone currently on Mars, received data showing that the aircraft had completed a successful, controlled flight.

This marks the first time in humanity’s history that a powered flight has taken place on another planet.

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.

“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.”

In a moment reminiscent of the Wright brothers’ tentative successes at Kitty Hawk, Ingenuity first became airborne at 12:34 a.m. Pacific Time (12:33 Mars time).

Data from the solar-powered helicopter altimeter indicated the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 10 feet and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds, before touching down after a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.

Ingenuity is a component of the U.S. space program’s latest Mars rover, Perseverance, which touched down two months ago on the red planet.

The rover captured photos of the drone’s flight using its mast cam and Navcam imager.

Developed by the Jet Propulsion Team, Ingenuity has been programmed to fly autonomously. Due to the vast distance between our planet and Mars, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick.

In recognition of the achievement, NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen announced they would be naming the field where the flight took place after the Wright Broths.

“117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” Zurbuchen said.

“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked.”

Powered flight on Mars is challenging due to an extremely thin atmosphere, with relatively few air molecules for rotor blades to push against.

Ingenuity’s purpose is a proof-of-concept, showing that powered flight can be achieved and paving the road for future aerial exploration of Mars and the solar system.

A second test flight is planned no sooner than April 22. The NASA team will use data from these tests to determine the craft’s flight profile going forward, provided it survives the second attempt.

Tim Ford
Tim Ford
Digital staff writer with Victoria Buzz

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