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NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter Flies On Mars

NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter
An artist's concept of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars.
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The Ingenuity helicopter performed its first successful flight on Mars early Monday morning, marking the first time a powered aircraft has flown on another planet.

It happened just after midnight, Earth time. The tiny helicopter got about 10 feet off the ground, made a quarter turn, and landed. The flight lasted approximately 39 seconds, and data containing flight information reached engineers at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory about three hours later.

The vehicle’s brief sojourn was originally scheduled to take place last week, but was delayed after problems arose during a test.

Ingenuity's mission is to determine the feasibility of operating aircraft on other planets. Scientists can also use it to scout a safe path for the Perseverance rover to travel. Perseverance landed on Mars in February and has been doing well, taking its first road trip a few weeks after landing.

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Designed and built at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, the Ingenuity helicopter was sent to Mars aboard Perseverance.

“What the Ingenuity team has done is given us the third dimension,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins.

Project Manager MiMi Aung said conditions on Mars are harsh.

"The atmosphere there is so thin, about 1% compared to that of Earth's,” she said. “That’s like being at three times the height of the Himalayas."

The Ingenuity team plans to continue testing the helicopter's limits with four more flights. The next flight is scheduled for Thursday.