NASA Mars chopper prepares for first ever flight on another planet

Members of the NASA Mars Helicopter team inspecting the flight model before it left on its journey to Mars

The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment.

She added that, "We don't know from history what Orville and Wilbur [Wright] did after their first successful flight".

NASA successfully flew the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars on Monday, according to data and images sent back to Earth.

This could be the first of 5 flights © NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA's Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4. The Perseverance rover - which carried Ingenuity to Mars - watched the liftoff from a nearby overlook, filming as well.

"By its nature, it's going to have a little bit more risk than a normal mission", Ravich said. Speaking on a NASA webcast early Monday, she called it the "ultimate dream". If all has gone well, Ingenuity will attempt up to four more airborne escapades over the course of 30 days. The room erupted in cheers and applause.

The Ingenuity is on Mars at all so NASA can test out the viability of flight-based exploration.

The flight was pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars.

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NASA had been aiming for a 40-second flight, and while details were initially sparse, the craft hit all its targets: spin-up, takeoff, hover, descent and landing. Ingenuity was therefore made extremely light and given the power to turn those blades extremely fast - at over 2,500 revolutions per minute. Created to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, the blades are much larger than would be needed for a similar-sized helicopter on Earth. At the same time, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind and extreme cold. It spent about six seconds moving up to its goal altitude of three meters (ten feet).

The helicopter is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for its survival during the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.

The NASA team watched at command headquarters as the first data, which included a grainy black and white image, confirmed the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter had succeeded. It turned out to be less than 100 feet (30 meters) from the original landing site in Jezero Crater.

The helicopter's mission will end at the end of April. Ingenuity re-did its full-speed spin test on Friday, and the blades performed as they should during flight. "Get to the chopper!" he shouted, re-enacting a line from his 1987 sci-fi film "Predator". If successful, the demo could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as scouts for astronauts.

As the helicopter falls silent, the rover will drive away and get ready to start the main mission: to hunt for evidence of past life on Mars.

In NASA's eyes, though, Ingenuity is already victorious, since Monday's feat provides unprecedented data about flight on Mars that will inform future rotorcraft projects. The mission is meant to search for evidence of ancient microbial life, analyse Martian rocks, and research the landscape, providing important information for future launches bound for Mars.

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