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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! 👏

— 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.

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Trevor Mogg
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