International 19/04/2021

NASA makes history with the first controlled flight over another planet

Ingenuity helicopter has been able to fly in Mars's thin atmosphere

2 min
Imatge captured by the Ingenuity helicopter on its first flight over the surface of Mars.

BarcelonaToday, NASA has successfully made the first ever controlled flight over Mars. Ingenuity, a small 1.8-kg helicopter carried by Perseverance spacecraft, which landed on Mars on 19 February, completed a historic 30-second flight to successfully complete one of the main objectives of the Mars 2020 mission: to prove that it is possible to fly over the surface of Mars, a milestone that will undoubtedly improve the ability to explore the planet. The images have reached Earth four hours after the flight and confirm that the device has risen, captured images of the planet and sent them on.

The technological challenge was enormous: the atmosphere on Mars is not very dense - it has a density equivalent to 1% of the Earth's -, the gravity is also lower and the apparatus has to be controlled remotely from our planet, some 241 million kilometres away. At the same time, the strong winds on Mars are a huge difficulty, and that is why the flight has been postponed several times to find a day when they were not particularly intense.

Perseverance rover took a selfie. Ingenuity helicopter is visible in the background, on Mars' surface.

Prior to the experiment, NASA released a selfie of Perseverance with Ingenuity in the background, captured by the cameras on Perseverance's extendable arm two days before the experiment. In fact, the rover gently deposited Ingenuity on the surface of Mars a few days ago, and since then the small helicopter has already passed the test of withstanding the harsh conditions of the planet, with nights of -80 Cº.

NASA wanted to compare this historic milestone, the first flight over the surface of another planet, with the first attempt to fly over the Earth on December 17, 1903 carried out by the Wright brothers in North Carolina. The test was a failure, but it gave the pioneers of aviation enough information to know that flying was possible. That's why NASA engineers who built the Ingenuity added, just below the solar panels of the small craft, a small piece of fabric from the wing of the Wright brothers' original plane.