Ingenuity's shadow
Ingenuity photographed its shadow while hovering over Mars. Courtesy NASA/JPL

The four-pound Ingenuity helicopter controlled by a Qualcomm smartphone chip made the first flight on another planet Monday, climbing to 10 feet above Mars and hovering for 30 seconds before landing.

The solar-powered helicopter took off at 12:34 a.m. Pacific time and logged a total of 39.1 seconds of flight in the thin, cold Martian atmosphere. The successful flight was confirmed when data and images were received approximately three hours later.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena said the flight demonstrates that powered, controlled flight on another planet is possible.

“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit.”

San Diego-based Qualcomm provided a Snapdragon processor similar to the chips used in smartphones for autonomous control of the helicopter, since radio signals take over 10 minutes to reach Earth form Mars right now.

The helicopter was carried to Mars attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which dropped it onto the surface and moved away.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.