NASA’s announced the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet when the solar-powered “Ingenuity Mars Helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (12:34 a.m. PDT) – 12:33 – a time the Ingenuity team determined would have optimal energy and flight conditions. Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks.”
Jezero Crater Lift Off –“Will revolutionize how we think about Mars”
The 4-pound drone lifted off early on Monday in an atmosphere just 1/100th as dense as Earth’s, rose 10 feet above Mars’ Jezero Crater, harboring, NASA hopes, fossilized life that might have thrived billions of years ago, then gently touched back down. The insect-like craft uses a microchip that is comparable to what was found in cellphones a few years ago –about 150 times the computing power available to the much larger Perseverance rover.
“The landing site in Jezero Crater with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life.”
Equivalent of flying three times higher than the peak of Mount Everest
Taking off from the surface of Mars, reports Kenneth Chang for The New York Times, is comparable to flying at an altitude of 100,000 feet on Earth. No helicopter on our planet has flown that high, and it’s more than two times the typical flying altitude of jetliners. The entire flight should last about 40 seconds, but it could forever change the way NASA explores other planets. Future Mars helicopters could scout out canyons and mountains that rovers can’t access, fly in and out of craters, or even do reconnaissance for astronauts.
“Each world gets only one first flight,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said in a briefing on Friday. “The Wright brothers achieved the first flight on Earth. Ingenuity is poised to go for being the first on Mars.”
Flying on Mars is challenging with the air there has just 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, — the equivalent of flying three times higher than the peak of Mount Everest. To catch enough lift with so few molecules to push against, NASA reports, the helicopter’s two pairs of blades spin in opposite directions at a speed roughly eight times faster than a passenger helicopter on Earth.
“There were some people who doubted we could generate enough lift to fly in that thin Martian atmosphere,” Amiee Quon, who tested Ingenuity in a Mars-simulation chamber on Earth, said in the Friday briefing.
“What we will have proven is that we can add an aerial dimension to discovery and exploration on Mars,” Zurbuchen said. “That aerial dimension, of course, opens up aspects of science and overall exploration that, frankly, at this moment in time, are only our dreams.”
We’re Already Colonizing Mars –It starts with Instagram posts and discarded parachutes, and the sense that a world is ours for the taking. , “The first attempt at powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet. Or, to put it in more mundane terms, Mars will have become another airport, reports Slate.
The “Octavia E. Butler Landing”
That landing spot was named by the NASA team “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” a homage to Butler as a visionary artist and as the first sci-fi author to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. The name conjoins the daring mission of the Perseverance rover with the legacy of a luminous writer of intellectually daring novels. It also meaningfully honors a Black woman, on behalf of NASA.
“Few writers.” says Chrsitopher Schaberg for Slate, “have been as acutely aware of the moral quandaries of human domination and planetary colonization (see Dawn), and of how colonies function as palimpsests of slavery and other cross-generational patterns of violence (consider Kindred). To call the landing site “Octavia E. Butler Landing” is somewhat paradoxical; it might as well have been named ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.'”
The Perseverance mission is reminiscent of an older way of doing science [where] naturalists and other explorers traveled, welcome or not, to faraway places to gather trunkfulls of specimens for closer study,” writes Marina Koren at The Atlantic.
Avi Shporer, formerly a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).currently with the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research via NASA, New York Times, Insider, Slate, and The Atlantic