NASA’s small helicopter makes first powered flight on Mars

NPR reports NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has made the first-ever powered flight on another planet, 117 years after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight on this planet.

“Ingenuity looks a bit like a child’s spindly toy. On the very top is a small solar panel for charging the helicopter’s six lithium batteries. Below that are two carbon fiber rotors that turn in opposite directions. The blades attach to a common axle protruding from the body of the rover. The body is about the size of a tissue box. Four thin legs that look as if they could have been made from coat hangers (but in fact are carbon composite) provide the landing gear.

Unlike a drone, the helicopter maintains stability in the air by making fine adjustments in the pitch of the rotor blades. Designed to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, the blades are much larger than would be needed for a similar-sized helicopter on Earth. Even so, the blades have to rotate quite rapidly, 2,537 revolutions per minute, according to a NASA news release.

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