Nasa’s helicopter feat marks great Ingenuity - GulfToday

Nasa’s helicopter feat marks great Ingenuity


NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has made history with its test flight on the Red Planet.

Adventures in space give both, those taking part in them and those following them a frisson of thrill unmatched perhaps in any other field. In both cases, it shoots up the adrenalin and trigger waves of delight that keep overwhelming the senses.

The excitement could be equal to, or perhaps more than, the one experienced when Neil Armstrong took the first historic steps on the Moon. It was also as thrilling as seeing Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori blast off from the launchpad that sent Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space and make a memorable landing on the International Space Station. The expedition fired up an entire Emirati nation whose people, watching the space odyssey with nervy expectation, burst into raptures after his successful feat.

Nasa’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.

It was a brief hop – just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 metres) – but enough to herald a lifetime of delight, having accomplished all the major milestones.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogramme) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

Flight controllers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly when it touched down in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

Scientists cheered the news from around the world, even from space, and the White House offered its congratulations.

“The shadow of greatness, #marsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!” Nasa astronaut Victor Glover tweeted from the International Space Station.

This first test flight – with more to come by Ingenuity – holds great promise. Future helicopters could serve as otherworldly scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous places.

Next came a stunning colour video of the copter’s clean landing, taken by Perseverance.

To accomplish all this, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute – five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1% the thickness of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough – with blades spinning fast enough – to generate this other worldy lift.  More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is just 19 inches (49 centimetres) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fibre, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: each pair stretches 4 feet (1.2 metres) tip to tip.

Ingenuity also had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind, and is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for surviving the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.

Nasa chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield. Following Monday’s success, Nasa named the Martian airfield after the Wright brothers.

“While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and ... million miles of space, they now will forever be linked,” Nasa’s science missions chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.

The move is pathbreaking. Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews. On Earth, the technology could enable helicopters to reach new heights, doing things like more easily navigating the Himalayas.

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