The quest to get humans on other planets is a slow but fruitful process that deserves celebration when a milestone is reached.
Recently, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter that arrived on Mars with the new Perseverance rover back at the end of February achieved something very special. Ingenuity launched from the Martian surface marking the first powered aircraft flight on another planet and thus marking a massive milestone in the story of human space exploration.
Ingenuity hovered for around 30 seconds, three meters above the Martian surface, before it safely returned back down. While a 30-second flight from a small helicopter may not seem like that big of a deal – it is, and here’s why; Ingenuity taking flight in Mars’ atmosphere, which is 100 times thinner than Earths, is the equivalent of a normal size helicopter taking flight on Earth to 100,000 feet. Commercial planes fly anywhere between 30,000/40,000 feet, and the highest a helicopter has been flown on Earth is 42,000 feet.
“Testing the craft on Earth required a pressurized room, from which a lot of air would have been extracted to emulate Mars’ atmosphere. Then there’s the Martian gravity to consider, which is about one-third the strength of gravity on Earth. This actually gives us a slight advantage. If Mars had the same atmosphere as Earth, its lesser gravity means we’d be able to lift Ingenuity with less power than would be required here. But while Mars’ gravity works to our advantage, this is offset by the lack of atmosphere.”