A first for humanity as NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter set to fly on another planet

NASA Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars. Credit: NASA.

This Sunday the Ingenuity helicopter developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will attempt to take-off and fly on Mars, something humans have never attempted before on another planet.

Sunday, April 11 update: The flight has been delayed according to NASA. “Based on data from the Ingenuity Mars helicopter that arrived late Friday night, NASA has chosen to reschedule the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first experimental flight to no earlier than April 14.”

“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters. “We do tech demos like this to push the envelope of our experience and provide something on which the next missions and the next generation can build. Just as Ingenuity was inspired by the Wright brothers, future explorers will take off using both the data and inspiration from this mission.”

NASA said the Mars helicopter experiment “is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration.” The outcome of Ingenuity’s test will not affect the primary mission of the Perseverance rover.

Mars Ingenuity helicopter preflight briefing

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Preflight Briefing on Friday, April 9, 2021, 1 p.m. EDT.

The flight will be autonomous “with Ingenuity’s guidance, navigation, and control systems doing the piloting. That’s mostly because radio signals will take 15 minutes, 27 seconds to bridge the 173-million-mile (278-million-kilometer) gap between Mars and Earth.”

“Flying in a controlled manner on Mars is far more difficult than flying on Earth. Even though gravity on Mars is about one-third that of Earth’s, the helicopter must fly with the assistance of an atmosphere whose pressure at the surface is only 1% that of Earth. If successful, engineers will gain invaluable in-flight data at Mars for comparison to the modeling, simulations, and tests performed back here on Earth. NASA also will gain its first hands-on experience operating a rotorcraft remotely at Mars. These datasets will be invaluable for potential future Mars missions that could enlist next-generation helicopters to add an aerial dimension to their explorations.”

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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