NASA Ingenuity Autonomous Helicopter Completes Historic First Flight On Mars

ingenuity rover
NASA's latest mission to Mars wowed audiences worldwide when the Perseverance rover "stuck" its landing back in mid-February. So far, Perseverance has performed all its scheduled tasks with aplomb. Still, a side mission involving that Ingenuity helicopter stowed aboard the rover is making news of its own this morning.

NASA confirmed that Ingenuity successfully completed a hover test this morning, marking the first time a powered aircraft has taken flight on another planet. Ingenuity is a twin-rotor helicopter that weighs just 4 pounds and is roughly the size of a tissue box. The helicopter managed to hover in place approximately 10 feet above the Martian soil and stayed aloft for precisely 39.1 seconds before touching back down.

All the data beamed back to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) shows that all systems were nominal during the flight. However, full details regarding this historic flight will be beamed back to JPL over the coming hours and days. And hopefully, we'll get some sweet high-resolution imagery, and video captured from the nearby Perseverance rover, which took off at 3:34 am EDT this morning. For the time being, you can look at this low-resolution gif of the flight embedded below.

Ingenuity's first flight was completed autonomously using hardware guidance systems and software developed by JPL. It should be noted that gravity on Mars is one-third that of Earth, while the air is incredibly thin. That makes it more challenging for the 4-foot-wide rotor blades to gain sufficient lift to get Ingenuity airborne.

"Now, 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," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for Science. "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."

You can see the black and white image that Ingenuity captured of its shadow (using off-the-shelf smartphone cameras) at the top of this article, and we should soon have additional footage from Perseverance's Mastcam-Z and Navcam cameras.

NASA hopes to perform additional test flights of Ingenuity over the coming weeks that will go higher, further, and for longer durations.