The U.S. space agency, NASA, Monday received images and data confirming its small helicopter, Ingenuity, successfully performed the first controlled powered flight of an aircraft on a planet other than Earth.
Scientists in the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology burst into applause and cheers when data confirmed Ingenuity had successfully spun its rotors, lifted off to a height of three meters and landed safely back on the surface of Mars.
A picture taken by the small craft of its own shadow on the ground below it arrived seconds later, as did video of the flight taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover probe several meters away.
Ingenuity, weighing a mere 1.8 kilograms, was stowed away on the Perseverance when it landed on Mars in February. It was unfolded and dropped from the rover about two weeks ago to prepare its launch.
The first test of the helicopter had been scheduled for more than a week ago, but a software problem was discovered that required an update.
The helicopter is considered by NASA to be a technology demonstration, designed to test a new capability — in this case, flight in the thin Martian atmosphere — for the first time. It has specially designed rotors that spin much faster than they would have to on Earth to achieve flight. It also has innovative batteries and solar cells for recharging.
Aside from cameras, Ingenuity carries no scientific instruments.