Flight of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter makes history in interplanetary aviation

Gwen Pane, Staff Writer

NASA’s helicopter named Ingenuity was flown for the first time on Mars, making history as the first flight on any planet other than Earth. After a delay of one week due to software issues, the event took place on April 19, with the drone flying for exactly 39.1 seconds.

The 1.8 kilogram helicopter cost around $85 million and included counter-rotating carbon fibre blades, which rotated at 2,400 revolutions per minute in an effort to raise the helicopter three meters in Mars’s thin atmosphere. The final maneuver it did following a period of hovering was turning 96 degrees and landing safely on the planet’s surface.

Ingenuity was originally part of NASA’s Perseverance mission, which included the Perseverance rover that touched down two months prior on Feb. 18. During the helicopter’s flight, the Perseverance rover was 65 meters away videotaping the event, allowing the entire world to witness the event on NASA’s website. Similar to the rover, the helicopter carries the main goal of exploration and was designed with cameras that could take pictures of the terrain. However, a purpose unique to the Ingenuity helicopter was to test flight on another planet, with it only being designed to last 30 Martian days (1 Martian day is equivalent to 1.027 Earth days) or shorter if it crashes.

“If we are serious about human missions to Mars, we should be serious about sending large helicopters to truly explore what awaits there,” Anubhav Datta, an aerospace engineer at the University of Maryland in College Park, stated. “The most interesting places we want to explore are not on flat land but up the slopes, on the cliffs, down the craters and into the caves.”

Not only was the flight a huge leap in interplanetary aviation, but Ingenuity’s success has opened countless doors in the exploration of Mars and other planets in our solar system, allowing inspection of places previously inaccessible to rovers.

More flights for NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter are planned in the next two weeks to test its limits of speed, mobility and traveling distance, gathering data for future helicopters. Dragonfly, an octocopter set to launch in 2027 for Saturn’s moon Titan, is one of NASA’s future missions that is intended to gain crucial information through Ingenuity’s tests.

“Each world gets only one first flight,” observed MiMi Aung, a lead engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., reminding everyone of the gravity of Ingenuity’s accomplishment regardless of future events.