On 19 April 2021, NASA reached a historic milestone - the first-ever controlled flight of a craft in the atmosphere of another planet.
NASA is about to find out whether its Mars helicopter successfully flew its first flight - a feat that could revolutionize spaceflight.
Ingenuity actually has a much more powerful processor on board than even the Perseverance rover itself, and that's because it intends to gather massive amounts of data about what happens during its flight test so that it can transmit that to the rover, which then leapfrogs the information back to Earth.
The 4-pound drone began to spin its four carbon-fiber blades early Monday.
This first flight of Ingenuity was an autonomous remote flight, with crews on Earth controlling it just by sending commands through at the appropriate times to signal when it should begin and end its 40-second trip through the Martian 'air.' While that might seem like a really short trip, it provides enormous value in terms of the data collected by the helicopter during the flight.More news: Ontario reports 4362 new COVID cases Saturday
The robot rotorcraft was programmed to ascend 10 feet (3 meters) straight up, then hover and rotate in place over the Martian surface for half a minute before settling back down on its four legs.
Although the atmosphere on Mars is only about 1% as dense as on Earth, the lift requirements are made somewhat less by the Martian gravity - about one-third of Earth's.
Ingenuity's objective on Mars was simply to show that rotorcraft technology can work in that kind of harsh environment.
Altimeter data was the first indicator of mission success.
Two cameras on the bottom of Ingenuity should have recorded footage throughout the flight.More news: Table Mountain fire: Historic buildings destroyed in Cape Town
The space agency's Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February, recently deployed a 1.8kg helicopter specially made for Martian conditions. They'd spent five years building the vehicle in preparation for this moment but couldn't do anything to control it in real time.
Getting the helicopter to fly however will be quite hard, as its never been done before. The Ingenuity is carrying a small piece of fabric from the Kitty Hawk plane, in honor of the first flight on Earth. The room erupted in cheers and applause. NASA hopes at least one of them will show the helicopter in flight.
Space helicopters similar to Ingenuity could someday explore canyons and mountains, study large regions faster than a rover can, or even do reconnaissance for future astronauts. "We can fly!'" Taryn Bailey, a mechanical engineer on the Ingenuity mission team, told IFLScience. But the NASA officials felt that Ingenuity-which means the skill of thinking, performing, or using things in new ways, esp.to solve problems (definition as per the Cambridge dictionary)- was a suitable name for the helicopter whose team had given a lot of creative thinking to get the mission off the ground.
"I'm sure our community will look at any and all options to bring controlled flight to bear as a tool of research and exploration", Zurbuchen said.
"There will be surprises, and you will be learning about them right at the same time that we will". Depending on how the first flight goes, engineers could instruct to go Ingenuity as high as 16 feet in future flights, and travel as far as 150 feet from its takeoff point.More news: US, China agree to cooperate on climate change