After some delay, NASA's Ingenuity helicopter was given the "all-clear for takeoff" on Sunday. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) sent instructions for the Mars helicopter to liftoff. By early Monday morning, history was made and would make the Wright brothers proud as Ingenuity lifted off on the Red Planet.
JPL tweeted Ingenuity "made history today by being the first craft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet beyond Earth."
Perseverance got us to Mars. With Ingenuity, we soar higher.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
The #MarsHelicopter made history today by being the first craft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet beyond Earth.
During today's historic ascent, JPL released the first photo from the flight.
The 4-pound helicopter rose a little more than 3 meters, hovered briefly, and returned to the surface. Ingenuity's altimeter shows flight time and altitude reached.
NASA's rover Perseverance tweeted a short GIF of Ingenuity's flight. Throughout the day, more images and pictures will be released.
"We can now say we've flown a rotorcraft on another planet," MiMi Aung, NASA's Ingenuity program manager, told her team earlier this morning in the flight control room. "We together flew on Mars. We together have our Wright brothers moment."
She added that "We don't know from history what Orville and Wilbur [Wright] did after their first successful flight. But I imagine the two brothers hugged each other. Well, you know, I'm hugging you virtually."
Ingenuity's initial flight was scheduled for April 11. A problem occurred on the helicopter's onboard computers that engineers on Earth were able to correct.
Mars's super-thin atmosphere is just 1% the density of Earth's, making it more challenging for the helicopters' blades to spin around 2,500 revolutions per minute to generate lift. For comparison, on Earth, most helicopters operate at about 450-500 revolutions per minute.
As for future flights, at least five are scheduled in the coming weeks. Each flight will be more complex, operating at higher altitudes and longer flight times.