By Daniel Mapemba
The Mars rover, Perseverance, landing safely on Mars on February 18 this year was a momentous occasion. Arguably the detachment and subsequent flight of its 19-inch piggy-backing helicopter, Ingenuity, was an even more exciting event. On April 3, the helicopter was deployed (detached), and on April 19 the copter took to the Martian skies, hovering three meters in the air for approximately 30 seconds. Live-streaming video to NASA three hours later confirmed Ingenuity’s success. The flight was power-controlled from sonar panels on the back of the Perseverance rover. The flight provided data on the differences in gravitational force between Mars and Earth (one-third of Earth’s) and the atmospheric conditions on Mars.
NASA explained, “This means there are relatively few air molecules with which Ingenuity’s two 4-foot-wide (1.2-meter-wide) rotor blades can interact to achieve flight.” Ingenuity is made up from unique parts that were tested by this flight to see if it can hold up in space.
NASA’s project manager MiMi Aung says, “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.” NASA also said that the Ingenuity helicopter would get a rest day to recover and charge back up from it’s solar panels. The helicopter’s next flight was April 22nd. The scientists at NASA are eager to gain information about Mars and are not wasting any time about it.
The helicopter crew says that the landing gear, technical work and communications are all in great shape on Ingenuity. Perseverance’s job was to find ancient microbial life NASA says it’s mission is to collect the rocks on Mars and dust. “Perseverance will pave the way for human exploration on the Red Planet,” JPL (the company that built and manages the rover Perseverance) put in.
MiMi Aung’s team at NASA looking over Ingenuity were very happy and pleased when they saw the rover landed and was moving around the Martian surface. “Applause, cheers and laughter erupted in the operations center when success was finally declared. There was even more when the first black and white photo appeared on the screens, showing Ingenuity’s shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars,” HuffPost reported on NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter team.
NASA says their next goal is for a 40-second flight. Some software errors may have interfered initially, because a week prior to the initial flight, a software issue stopped it from lifting off. The helicopter crew had to come up with a new plan quickly, which added to the stress and anxiety they already felt.
Up to five helicopter flights are planned for the next few months. Each of those five flights will give us information and knowledge about Mars and will pave the way for a better, more knowledgeable future for humans. The helicopter team still has some test flights for Ingenuity so it can complete its main mission, which was collecting rock samples on Mars. NASA says that these samples could tell us information about if there was any life on the planet.
At least for now the helicopter team can relax. There is still hard work in store for them and that helicopter holds the future for our space knowledge. This was a dream for a very long time for the NASA crew and all of the world; a dream now turned into a reality. The hard part is over. Now begins the part where Ingenuity and Perseverance can change the future for us.