NASA Just Flew a Drone on Mars

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Ingenuity performs first flight on Mars

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter made its first flight over the red planet on Monday, the agency said.

This first flight of Ingenuity was an autonomous remote flight, with crews on Earth controlling it just by sending commands through at the appropriate times to signal when it should begin and end its 40-second trip through the Martian 'air.' While that might seem like a really short trip, it provides enormous value in terms of the data collected by the helicopter during the flight.

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory broke into cheers and applause as downlink engineer Michael Starch confirmed that "Ingenuity has performed its first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet".

Parked about 64.3 m (211 feet) away during Ingenuity's historic first flight, the Perseverance rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras.

Ingenuity itself sent back a still black-and-white image from its downward pointing camera, showing its own shadow cast on the surface.

Immediately after the flight, Zurbuchen announced the "airfield" on Mars that is hosting Ingenuity would be called Wright Brothers Field, "in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration".

Offsetting this challenge slightly is the low gravity on Mars, which is just 38% as strong as gravity on the surface of Earth. The little vehicle hovered for about 30 seconds on the surface of the Red Planet. Flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory received data confirming the successful flight at 3:46 AM PDT (10:46 UTC). Success hinges on Ingenuity executing the pre-programmed flight instructions using an autonomous pilot and navigation system. "We don't know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today's results indicate the sky - at least on Mars - may not be the limit".

The tiny but mighty helicopter successfully took off from NASA's Mars rover, Perseverance, back in February when it initially landed in the ancient Jezero Crater, which is about 750 miles across.

You won't be able to watch the flight in real time - NASA can't livestream from another planet - but video of and from the flight will likely become available soon afterward. Unfortunately, a failed high-speed rotor spin test on Friday 9 April delayed the flight demonstration, but the Ingenuity team appears to have now fixed the issue and completed the test on April 16.

Ingenuity was deployed to its "flight strip" on April 3 and is now in the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window.

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