spaceSpace and Physics

NASA’s Ingenuity Becomes First Propelled Vehicle To Fly On Another World


Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockApr 19 2021, 11:53 UTC
An illustration of NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter flying on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity’s first flight is certainly one for the history books. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter just became the first vehicle to fly on Mars and the first powered vehicle to ever fly on another planet. The little vehicle rose 3 meters (10 feet) and hovered for about 30 seconds on the surface of the Red Planet. Ingenuity's success opens up a completely new dimension of robotic space exploration for the future.

As a poignant tribute, a piece of the Wright brothers' original plane – the first powered aircraft to successfully fly – was placed inside Ingenuity.


The mission team has received altimetry data confirming it flew this morning at 6:46 ET. More data, images, and videos will be transmitted back to Earth.

"We can say human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet," said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, after the success of the flight was announced.

The first flight looked like this: the rotor blades spun at 2,537 rotations per minute (rpm). After the onboard computer said all was well, the blades were then angled to optimally achieve lift in the thin Martian atmosphere. And then it flew. It spent about 6 seconds moving up to its goal altitude of 3 meters (10 feet).

“Over the next month, the flights get progressively a little bit more advanced. So the first flight is really our minimum success criteria to say that ‘yes, we check that box. We can fly!’” Taryn Bailey, a mechanical engineer on the Ingenuity mission team, told IFLScience.


The mission team will attempt four more flights after today’s success. The next flights will have Ingenuity do more than just take off, hover, and land – it will move laterally, and then go further afield. Ingenuity remains a technology demonstration, so it is there to just show what we are capable of doing from a technical point of view. But a future mission might have its own version of Ingenuity as an invaluable exploration companion.


April has certainly become the month of Ingenuity on Mars. First, the helicopter dropped to the ground from the belly of Perseverence where it was stored for their interplanetary journey, and it has undergone several tests in preparation for today’s first flight. The tests were needed as the team discovered a software issue that required an update and delaying the flight until today.

Ingenuity’s first flight is one for the history books, and we can’t wait to see more flying vehicles exploring the planets and moons of the Solar System.



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