KITTY HAWK, N.C. (WAVY) — The world watched as NASA’s ingenuity helicopter took flight on the red planet early Monday morning. Applause erupted as the device landed successfully after an almost 40-second hover.
The importance of the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk 117 years ago is not lost on this ingenuity team. The finishing touch on the ingenuity chopper was a tiny piece from the tire of the Wright brothers’ plane.
“We wanted to bring a little good luck with us from home,” explained Teddy Tzanetos, the deputy operations lead for the ingenuity Mars helicopter.
The piece of tire was only the size of a postage stamp, but served a functional purpose.
“We tucked it right underneath the solar panel to bring us a little bit of good luck and act as our final ballast to bring the weight to the final 1.8 kilograms, or about 4 pounds, for ingenuity,” Tzanetos said.
The good luck paid off.
“Today has been a dream come true. The entire team has been waiting for this moment for years,” said Tzanetos.
Another nod to their predecessors in flight, NASA scientists dubbed the martian airfield where the ingenuity test flights are taking place “Wright Brothers Field.”
“That name means a lot of us,” explained Tzanetos. “Hopefully they’re looking over us right now and approving of what we’re trying to do.”
The ingenuity team faced a different set of challenges than the Wright brothers, like extreme cold temperatures on the surface of Mars, a thin atmosphere only about 1% of Earth’s, and a requirement that the flight be completely autonomous. According to Tzanetos, controlling the helicopter from Earth in real-time is not an option.
Although the challenges are different, Tzanetos hopes the amount of impact the flight has on aviation and humankind are the same.
“We hope this really is going to be the pivotal moment that will lead to an explosion of different sorts of exploration on mars.”