NASA successfully completed the first powered and controlled flight of the Ingenuity helicopter using atmospheric lift on Mars on April 19, 2021. Touted as the first-ever powered flight on another planet besides Earth, the robotic helicopter took off vertically, hovered and landed on the dusty red surface of Mars.
Hailed as the Wright Brother moment, the mini 1.8 kg copter even carried a wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer. The historic achievement is not just a proud moment for Nasa but also for Indians too as the chief engineer of Ingenuity is an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Madras) alumni, Bob Balram who completed his mechanical engineering between 1975-1980. Balram went on to complete his MS and PhD from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, America's oldest technological research university. Associated with NASA for 20 years, he has worked in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a chief Engineer for Mars Helicopter Scout Project. He has also worked on advanced simulation techniques for planetary entry, descent, and landing.
About Ingenuity helicopter:
A part of NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, Ingenuity is a barebones 1.6 feet (0.5 metres) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fibre, foam-filled rotors are the biggest part of Ingenuity, with each pair stretching 4 feet (1.2 metres) tip to tip.
The helicopter is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for its survival during the -130 degree Fahrenheit (-90 degree Celsius) Martian nights.
Following the success of Ingenuity, Nasa stated that up to five helicopter flights are planned by the space agency.
A key objective of Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterise the planet's geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA's Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.Also read: Covid-19 vaccine for above 18 years: From Katrina Kaif to Anand Mahindra - celebs, netizens react