Professor says helicopter flight on Mars will uncover secrets of the planet

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been referred to as a “Wright Brothers’ moment.” Today, the Ingenuity helicopter performed the first flight in the atmosphere of another world by taking off and landing on Mars.

Early this morning while most of us were sleeping, scientists and engineers at NASA were holding their breath. They sent commands to Ingenuity. 180 million miles away the helicopter spun up its twin 4-foot rotors, rose about 10 feet in the air, hovered, took a picture, and touched back down on Mars.

Jim Lacasse, is the Landsat Operations Project Manager at Eros Data Center near Sioux Falls. He knows exactly what it’s like to send commands to an object in space and wait to see if all the hard work has paid off.

“Yeah it can be nerve-racking, I know when we had a spacecraft anomaly and you’re not quite sure if the commands were received and acted upon. And then when you get the telemetry signals back it’s just a sense of relief, you know that it’s been successful,” said Lacasse.

Mike Gaffey is a Professor of Space Studies at the University of North Dakota.

He got up early to watch the flight. Professor Gaffney says controlled flight will let scientists uncover what happened to Mars and its atmosphere. For example, the geology revealed in cliff faces.

“Essentially maybe that is two, two and a half billion years of Martian history recorded in those cliff faces,” said Gaffey.

So when you watch this and know that this is happening, what’s that feeling like for you?

“Well, it’s like having a whole new world open up, previously we’ve just been looking at the surface of things, now we can begin, like at the landing site the Jezero Canyon landing sight we can look at a stack of history.”

Flat landing sights are safe, but they don’t tell us much about mars. Professor Gaffney says with Ingenuity, that’s about to change. And knowing what happened to Mars, could be important to the survival of Earth.

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