Massive Leap in Space Exploration by NASA: The Tiny Lightweight Chopper “Ingenuity” Completes Maiden Flight

NASA's latest experiment, a lightweight helicopter that goes by the name "Ingenuity" has flown the skies of Mars, successfully completing its maiden flight.

This led to a new shiny achievement by NASA of flying a craft on another world for the very first time. This little star copter the size of a chihuahua weighs around 1.8 kilograms and is built specifically lightweight to be able to fly in Mars's atmospheric condition.

The maiden flight took place on April 19th marking the beginning of a series of short flights that it will have to endeavor on. The flights are scheduled to be short bursts of airtime, the first being just a fleeting jump of 39 seconds, 3 meters of the ground.

The second flight of “Ingenuity” took place on April 22nd upped the game and took a more challenging ride through the atmosphere of Mars, lasting 52 seconds at 4.9 meters with additional testing of 5-degree tilting angle hover at 2.1 meters including some turns.

The Make of Ingenuity

The copter is fitted with two navigation cameras, one of color and one black and white camera. The first flight took black and white photos only but on its second flight Ingenuity came back with color photos of the Martian grounds.

Ingenuity landed on Mars by hopping for a ride on the underbelly of NASA's rover Perseverance when it touched down during February.

This $85 million project holds great potential for the future of space exploration. Considering the difficult atmosphere of Mars with only one-third of the gravity force of our planet, there was high risk and difficulty to manage a controlled flight on Martian grounds.

Its twin counter-rotating carbon blades that spin five times faster at whooping 2500 revolutions per minute than the helicopters on our planet, with attached solar cells, various sensors, and battery helped in making this feat possible.

The Feat of Challenge

There are also a lot of challenges like the impossibility to control the flight of Ingenuity live. A week of delay was even formed because of a software error during the first attempt.

Scientists had to feed in flight patterns way in advance and send it to Ingenuity hoping for a successful flight. Controllers had to wait for three very long hours to know whether the flight was a success.

The Moment of Success

When finally, Ingenuity held success the control center,  scientists around the world and space, even the White House celebrated the milestone achievement in space exploration and science.

To celebrate its success with the world, NASA even tweeted the control room video of the moment of celebration and first look of the pictures captured by the helicopter.

Google joined in celebrating the great achievement by adding a little flying Ingenuity in the search results for “Ingenuity NASA”.

With this new iconic moment etched in history, it sets off a whole new series of possibilities for exploration of space and terrain, and who knows this could the steppingstone to a future of fleet of drones delivering airborne views, commuting packages, paving the way, and watching over human explorations, etc.

Proud Moment For Indians

There is also a proud moment for Indians as the man behind this little copter is an Indian, Dr. J Balaram, who is the chief engineer of the mission that made iconic history on space exploration that was even drawn a parallel between a Wright Brothers moment.

Ingenuity even carries a piece of the fabric from Wright Brother's airplane, Wright Flyer, and the copter's take-off and landing area are even lovingly named Wright Brothers Field.

Origin of Ingenuity

Ingenuity has been over six years in the making starting from a conceptual design in 2014 by NASA's JPL followed by intensive testing and design overhaul to fit the 2020 Mars Mission as a test flight series.

Ingenuity was named after the entry of an 11-year-old, Vaneeza Rupani for NASA's "Name Your Rover" essay contest. Ingenuity was later nicknamed "Ginny" to be paired lovingly with its lookout parent rover Perseverance who was nicknamed "Percy".

The Future

If the entire series of flight tests including milestones like autonomous warming, charging, several landings and take-offs are all achieved, it could open the door to new possibilities in space flight technology and the creation of advanced robotics to carry out ambitious operations.

Terrain exploration via air can lead to studying previously inaccessible areas by rovers like deep craters, cliffs, etc, providing high definition imagery of these areas helping gathering more information on our unfamiliar neighboring planets.

The center has very bold plans of having 5 test flights over a month by Ingenuity to collect aerial views, after which Perseverance will go to its original duty of getting rock samples from the terrain. Till then Perseverance and Ingenuity will go on little exploration adventures testing Ingenuity's abilities to the max.

From the first step on the moon to the first flight on Mars, mankind is making bounds and leaps in technology and innovation. As we grow and expand our reach to the universe may be one-day such technology can help guide our path and even discover new life. Though it might take decades to get there, as they say, all good things take time.

Written by - Sreya Sara Binoy

Edited by - Akanksha Sharma



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