NASA's Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet
NASA's experimental Mars helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the planet's thin air on April 19, achieving the first powered flight on another planet.
The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter named Ingenuity, in fact, carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
"Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet," said the helicopter's chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in cheers.
Flight controllers in California confirmed Ingenuity's brief hop after receiving data via the Perseverance rover, which stood watch more than 200 feet (65 meters) away. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover's belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.
"Each world gets only one first flight," project manager MiMi Aung noted earlier this month. Speaking on a NASA webcast early on April 19, she called it the "ultimate dream."
Aung and her team had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded 178 million miles (287 million kilometers) away. Adding to their anxiety: A software error prevented the helicopter from lifting off a week earlier and had engineers scrambling to come up with a fix.
Applause, cheers and laughter erupted in the operations center when success was finally declared. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared on their screens, showing its shadow as it...