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Ingenuity in Flight!

By Dr. Lisa Will, Resident Astronomer at the Fleet Science Center
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. But the rover was not the only craft that landed that day. The Ingenuity helicopter was attached to the rover, safely stowed underneath the main structure. On April 19, 2021, Perseverance served to document the first powered and controlled flight on another world, as Ingenuity lifted off, rotated, and safely landed back on Mars.
The helicopter attained an altitude of about 10 feet (3 meters) from the Martian surface and hovered for a little over 30 seconds. It completed one rotation while in flight, before safely returning to the ground. Why is this so impressive? The Martian atmosphere is very thin, with an atmospheric pressure of less than 1% of the Earth’s. So, lifting off is not as easy as it would be for a similar weight craft here on Earth.
Ingenuity is meant to be a technology demonstration. What does that mean? This small helicopter does not carry any scientific instruments. Its sole purpose is to show powered, controlled flight is possible on Mars. These test flights are to demonstrate that powered aircraft can work on Mars, allowing future missions to explore Mars at larger distances quicker than our current rover programs, and would give us an aerial perspective we have not had before.
And yes, we said “flights”–plural! More test flights will hopefully happen over the next month to fully test the technology. But even if this is the only flight, Ingenuity made history. Congratulations to the whole team!
Look at the hashtag #MarsHelicopter to explore the flight experience.
Wishing you clear skies!

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