President Biden congratulates Mars helicopter Ingenuity team for historic 1st flight

President Joe Biden examines a model of NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which on April 19 became the first aircraft to perform a powered, controlled flight on a world beyond Earth.
President Joe Biden examines a model of NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which on April 19 became the first aircraft to perform a powered, controlled flight on a world beyond Earth. (Image credit: President Biden via Twitter (@POTUS))

The first-ever powered, controlled flight on Mars got a presidential thumbs-up.

President Joe Biden tweeted his support for the Ingenuity team after the little helicopter's record-setting Mars flight on Monday (April 19).

"Today, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter achieved liftoff — becoming the first aircraft to fly on another planet. NASA proved once again that with relentless determination and the power of America’s best minds, anything is possible," Biden tweeted that day, along with a picture of him with a model of the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper.

More Mars helicopters? NASA is already thinking about Ingenuity's successors

Ingenuity, a technology demonstration that landed with NASA's Perseverance rover on Feb. 18, is designed to show that aerial exploration is feasible on Mars. The little helicopter will make up to five flights during its month-long operational window, which closes in two weeks.

Ingenuity just made flight number two this morning (April 22), staying aloft for nearly 52 seconds and performing more complex maneuvers than it attempted on Monday.

Monday's tweet wasn't Biden's first expression of support for NASA's Mars exploration efforts. For example, the president called acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk shortly after Perseverance and Ingenuity touched down inside the Red Planet's Jezero Crater.

"His first words were 'Congratulations, man,' and I knew it was him," Jurczyk said in February of the call. "He talked about how proud he was of what we had accomplished."

Also, the recently released federal budget request for 2022 allocates $24.7 billion to NASA and includes discretionary funding for an important follow-on to Perseverance's work —hauling to Earth samples that the rover will collect. 

In larger NASA news, on March 19 Biden nominated a permanent administrator for the agency — veteran politician Bill Nelson, whose Senate confirmation hearing occurred on Wednesday (April 21). Nelson's speedy path to the Senate contrasts with that of previous NASA chief Jim Bridenstine, who was narrowly confirmed in 2018 after a 15-month wait. 

The first-ever powered, controlled flight on Earth was performed by Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on Dec. 17, 1903. Among the Wrights' many accolades, President William Howard Taft presented the brothers with the Aero Club of America gold medals in the East Room of the White House in 1909. At the time, Taft said the medals were "the first presidential recognition of aeronautics since President [George] Washington."

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: