Skip to main content

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter bags prestigious aviation award

The team behind NASA’s plucky Ingenuity helicopter has collected another award for the aircraft’s groundbreaking achievements on Mars.

The helicopter hovered into the history books in April 2021 when it became the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet.

In recognition of its success, the National Aeronautic Association presented NASA’s team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) with the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 9. JPL tweeted several photos from the event:

Yesterday, the #MarsHelicopter team accepted the prestigious Collier Trophy, awarded by the National Aeronautic Association for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America.

Please help us congratulate the Ingenuity team! 👏 pic.twitter.com/rEM5Uh1XQC

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) June 10, 2022

The trophy is presented each year for “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles.”

Commenting on the award, Teddy Tzanetos, JPL’s team lead for the helicopter, said: “Nearly every step we took on this journey moved into uncharted territory, and many didn’t believe we’d even make it into the air.”

Tzanetos added: “Now, thinking back to waiting nervously to see if our first sortie would be a success, it’s incredible to be where we are today. The Collier Trophy is such an honor, and I’m so proud of everyone who worked so hard to realize this vision.”

Following its maiden flight on the red planet more than a year ago, Ingenuity was only expected to take a further four flights as part of a technology demonstration. But it performed so well during its early missions that the team has been able to continue with its work and chalk up 28 flights to date.

The Ingenuity helicopter is 19.3 inches (49 cm) tall and weighs 4 pounds (2 kg). Its farthest single flight to date is 2,325 feet (709 meters), with the same mission seeing it reach a record speed of 12.3 mph (19.8 kph).

To the team’s delight, Ingenuity has been able to assist the team overseeing NASA’s ground-based Perseverance rover by using its onboard camera to perform exploration flights over areas of interest as well as checking the safest routes for the rover to take across the rocky Martian surface.

The Robert J. Collier Trophy was established more than a century ago as a way to highlight significant achievements in the field of aviation. Previous recipients of the award include Orville Wright in 1913 for developing the automatic stabilizer, Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager for his X-1 rocket plane mission in 1947 that marked the first crewed flight to break the sound barrier, and the astronauts of NASA’s Apollo voyages to the moon five decades ago.

And it’s not the first award to go to the Ingenuity team, either. Its growing list of accolades includes recognition from the Space Foundation for achievements in space exploration, and a prize from the Vertical Flight Society for “outstanding improvement in fundamental helicopter technology,” among other awards.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA says goodbye to Mars helicopter Ingenuity after an incredible 72 flights
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter unlocked its rotor blades, allowing them to spin freely, on April 7, 2021, the 47th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

It's a sad day for space fans, as the plucky little helicopter Ingenuity has finally come to the end of its mission on Mars. The helicopter will not be making anymore flights due to damage to one of its rotors that occurred during a recent landing, NASA said in an announcement on Thursday, January 25.

The mission was originally planned to make just five flights and to last 30 days, but has been successful beyond what anyone had imagined. The helicopter has made a total of 72 flights over the course of its three-year mission, which began when it was set down on the surface of Mars by the Perseverance rover. The rover arrived on Mars with the helicopter tucked up underneath its belly in February 2021, and Ingenuity sat on the surface for the first time in April 2021. It then made history by becoming the first rotorcraft to fly on another planet with its maiden flight.

Read more
NASA regains communications with Mars helicopter Ingenuity
The Ingenuity helicopter is pictured on the surface of Mars.

Just a few days after losing contact with the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, NASA announced that it has regained communications with the plucky little helicopter. In a post on X (formerly Twitter), NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which designed and operated the helicopter, announced that it is back in touch following an unexpected communications dropout.

The Ingenuity helicopter is pictured on the surface of Mars. NASA

Read more
NASA has lost communication with the Ingenuity Mars helicopter
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter is seen here in a close-up taken by Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras aboard the Perseverance rover. This image was taken on April 5, the 45th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity has had a remarkable lifespan and has proven to be a greater success than anyone imagined. Originally designed to perform just five flights over the surface of Mars, the helicopter has now performed more than 70. However, NASA has now announced that it has lost contact with the helicopter, though it's unclear how serious this problem is.

The helicopter was performing its 72nd flight, which was an adjustment and correction to a previous flight that was cut short. Flight 71 was intended to be a journey of 1,175 feet (358 meters), but when the helicopter made this flight earlier in the month, it traveled just a third of that. The problem was related to its downward-facing camera, which uses surface indications for autonomous navigation. The helicopter was traveling over a particularly featureless expanse of the surface, and the lack of landmarks appeared to cause a problem with its navigation, forcing the flight to end early.

Read more