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Monday, April 19, 2021

Ingenuity Helicopter Flies on Mars

This morning at 3:46AM PDT, JPL received confirmation that the Ingenuity helicopter successfully lifted off of the surface on Mars, climbed to 3 meters (~10 feet), hovered for 30 seconds and then landed.  This marks the first time any spacecraft mankind has sent to another body in the solar system has conducted a powered flight.  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) – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. 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 flight (and all flights of Ingenuity will share this) was autonomous.  It was piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL. Because of the distance from Earth to Mars, the signal takes around 16 minutes to get here and 16 minutes to get back, making any sort of control from Earth impossible.  Like the landing and its "seven minutes of terror" when the flight can't be observed in real time, Ingenuity's 39 second flight couldn't be observed either.  If the helicopter had tried to fly upside down due to a wiring error like last November's Arianespace Vega, they wouldn't know that until the video from the Perseverance rover arrived at JPL.

Now that it has flown, the Ingenuity team has its work cut out for it.  Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window.  Most of the unscheduled delay is due to the software issue encountered last week.  The team will spend the next three days going over all the collected data and come up with a plan for the second flight, currently set for NET April 22nd.  

Final words to MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL, in a short talk she gave this morning while the team was seeing the results of the years of work for the first time.  
“We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is. We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work – to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft – and so will we.”


  1. Replies
    1. It really is.

      Once they get their various issues ironed out and use up the rest of their 30 days, then they abandon it right there and Perseverance drives away.

  2. How does it recharge the battery? In the weak sunlight, and with that small solar panel on top, it must take a long time.

    1. You got it. That's why they flew for 39 seconds and recharge for three days. I don't know what their expected longest flight is, but it's not going to be much.

  3. I wonder what the Brothers Wright would have thought to have a part of their aircraft being on the first flying thing on Mars?

    My bet? Elon Musk uses that to decorate his Martian Musk Cave.