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This article was published on April 19, 2021

NASA just made history by flying an autonomous helicopter on Mars

The tiny chopper flew over the red planet on Monday morning

NASA just made history by flying an autonomous helicopter on Mars

NASA has made history after successfully conducting the first-ever controlled flight on another planet.

The space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter briefly flew over Mars this morning, in what NASA previously described as a “Wright Brothers” moment.

The 1.8 kg chopper ascended three meters above the red planet, hovered for around 30 seconds, and then returned to the Martian surface.

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity took this photo while hovering over Mars.

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The autonomous drone arrived on Mars inside NASA’s Perseverance rover on February 18. It was slated to make its first experimental flight on April 11, but the launch was twice postponed due to technical issues.

At around 07:00AM EST, NASA confirmed that the maiden voyage had been successful. Ingenuity will now attempt a series of more challenging flights.

While pilots planned the chopper’s route, Ingenuity had to fly autonomously because of communication delays. A combination of sensors and computer vision navigated the flight path.

Cameras on the helicopter will capture a new perspective of conditions on Mars. But Ingenuity’s primary mission is testing the potential of flying on other worlds.

NASA will use insights from the flights to develop future helicopters, which could one day help astronauts explore the red planet.

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