Tuesday, April 20, 2021

First Flight

From the New York Times:

A small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity made space exploration history on Monday when it lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered in the wispy air of the red planet. It was the first machine from Earth ever to fly like an airplane or a helicopter on another world.

The achievement extends NASA’s long, exceptional record of firsts on Mars.

“We together flew at Mars,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said to her team during the celebration. “And we together now have this Wright brothers moment.”

Like the first flight of an airplane by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903, the flight did not go far or last long, but it showed what could be done. Flying in the thin atmosphere of Mars was a particularly tricky technical endeavor, on the edge of impossible because there is almost no air to push against. NASA engineers employed ultralight materials, fast-spinning blades and high-powered computer processing to get Ingenuity off the ground and keep it from veering off and crashing.

Several headlines in the media proclaimed that Ingenuity was the first flight ever on another planet. They should have qualified that as the first known flight, since there are a lot of other planets in the universe and no one really knows who’s doing what somewhere else.

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