Google's newest Easter egg takes flight with NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter

NASA’s Perseverance rover acquired this image using its onboard Right Navigation Camera. The camera is located high on the rover’s mast and aids in driving. The image was taken

NASA successfully flew its tiny helicopter Ingenuity on Mars early Monday, the first powered flight on another planet and a feat a top engineer called "our Wright brothers' moment".

The first test flight hovered at around 10 feet off the ground, according to NASA. Eastern, but data from the flight, relayed through the Perseverance rover and another Mars orbiter, arrived at Earth a little more than three hours later.

Images and video, revealed during the livestream, show the brief moments in which the Ingenuity helicopter propelled itself above the surface of Mars, before descending in a straight line for a controlled landing.

"We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet", said MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "We together flew at Mars and we together now have our Wright Brothers moment".

As mentioned, this is the first ever flight of a powered vehicle on Mars, so while there's been lots of modelling and simulation work predicting how it would go, no one knew for sure what would happen before this live test. Ingenuity has to rotate its rotor at a super-fast 2,500 RPM, for instance, compared to around 400 to 500 RPM for a helicopter on Earth, because of how thin the atmosphere is on Mars, which produced significant technical challenges.

The flight was challenging because of conditions vastly different from Earth's - an atmosphere that has less than one percent the density of our own, and gravitational pull of only a third.

Ingenuity performs first flight on Mars

More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared on their screens, showing its shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars.

The robot rotorcraft was carried to the red planet strapped to the belly of Nasa's Mars rover Perseverance, a mobile astrobiology lab that touched down on February 18 in Jezero Crater after a almost seven-month journey through space.

The solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) - 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time).

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.

After the announcement, Aung was jubilant as she ripped up the papers holding the plan in case the flight had failed. 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.



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