NASA's experimental Mars helicopter makes history with successful flight on Red Planet
NASA Twitter

Cape Canaveral (US): NASA's experimental Mars helicopter ‘Ingenuity’ rose from the dusty red surface into the thin air on Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. "We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet," project manager MiMi Aung announced to her team. Aung and her team had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded 178 million miles (287 million kilometres) away. Ingenuity had hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance.

Applause, cheers and laughter erupted in the operations centre 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. Next came the stunning colour images of the helicopter descending back to the surface, taken by Perseverance, resulting in even more applause.

Details were initially sparse, but NASA had been aiming for a 40-second flight. The helicopter was supposed to rise 10 feet (3 metres), hover for up to 30 seconds, then pivot toward the rover and land close to where it took off.

With an atmosphere just 1 per cent the thickness of Earth's, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough - with blades spinning fast enough - to generate this otherworldy lift. At the same time, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind and extreme cold.

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. High-altitude helicopters here on Earth could also benefit - imagine choppers easily navigating the Himalayas.

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