Lands Successfully Lands First Powered, Controlled Flight on Another Planet

Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA, April 20, 2021 ~ NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. Monday morning, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Team in Southern California announced the flight’s success after receiving confirmation from NASA’s Perseverence rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT.

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 aircraft took off at 3:34 a.m. (12:33 Mars time), a time previously determined to have optimal flight conditions, and ascended to a maximum set altitude of 10 feet. The solar-powered helicopter then hovered for 30 seconds before descending, logging a total flight time of 39.1 seconds.

Footage from Mars captured by NASA’s Perseverance Rover of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s first Martian flight, the first aircraft flight on another planet.

The helicopter was controlled autonomously, as data cannot be transmitted to earth fast enough to be observed in real time. Information between Mars and Earth must travel hundreds of millions of miles using satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, and as such, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick.

The name for the Martian airfield pays homage to the first controlled flight on earth.

Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen said.  “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked.  As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration.”