A Small Helicopter Is A Huge Success on Mars
Early Monday morning, April 19, a little four-pound helicopter made history on another planet. The Ingenuity experimental flying machine became the first human-built aircraft to fly on Mars. It was a short flight - going straight up 10 feet and then back down in a 39-second test.
As Dr. Sarah Johnson of Georgetown University told a Montana State University audience this past winter, this is just a small part of the Mars Perseverance rover's mission to look for signs of previous life on Mars. MSU has been closely tied with NASA in a continuing grant program that has brought MSU and UM Montana students into the organization's continuing planetary exploration - both on Earth and the rest of the Solar System. Perseverance watched as Ingenuity made its initial flight.
The Ingenuity flight was the first of several planned in the coming month on Mars. Each flight is programmed ahead of time and the craft will run the program on its own - with the results known only hours later (about 3 hours), since the transmission time is significant. After all, Mars is about 173 million miles away. So, there's a lot of tension from programmers as they wait to see what happened with their latest instructions. It's sort of like some of Montana's internet service without broadband (only a lot slower).
By the way, in honor of the Wright Brothers' first powered flight on planet Earth over a hundred years ago, NASA has named the Martian spot where Ingenuity is flying "Wright Brothers Field."
More information can be found on this NASA site, including more video and photos coming from Perseverance and its little flying partner Ingenuity. And you can bet the engineering instructors and students at MSU in Bozeman are watching, too.