Nasa’s Mars helicopter completes first controlled flight


Credit:JPL NASA

NASA has completed the first controlled flight on another planet following the lift-off of its Mars helicopter-drone, Ingenuity.


The agency announced the successful launch of the ultra-lightweight robot on Monday after reports of technical issues that delayed the launch by a week.


The drone flew under two 1.2m-long rotors that spin in opposite directions at up to 2,500rpm.


The flight took place in the early hours of Monday morning but was only confirmed once data reached mission control three hours later.


A short clip sent back by the Perseverance rover showed the four pound helicopter grounded at first, hovering three meters above the Martian surface, then touching back down.


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


“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet!” said lead engineer MiMi Aung to her team.


“We've been talking so long about our Wright brothers’ moment on Mars, and here it is,” she added.


Ingenuity is a proof-of-concept vehicle that will pave the way for future Martian probes.


Scientists hope to use the drone-like craft to explore hard to reach places such as tunnels and caves, where it‘s believed life may have once existed.


It is hoped that the trip will help NASA gain invaluable data about the conditions on Mars - which is 173 million miles from Earth.


Prior to lift-off, NASA had called the unprecedented helicopter operation “highly risky” as the air on Mars is so thin – less than one per cent of the pressure of Earth's atmosphere.


NASA plans to perform a further four flights with the craft in the coming weeks.

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