Does flying for less than a minute on Mars still count? We say yes, absolutely.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is officially going down in history as the first aircraft to get powered flight on Mars.
At NASA’s command headquarters, the team watched on as the first data, consisting of a black and white image, confirmed that the flight had succeeded. The image – that looks like it could’ve been taken in the 1950s with its level of graininess – was sent back to Earth, showing the surface of Mars with a shadow of the aircraft.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter may have only been in the air for less than a minute, but it has gone down in history as the first aircraft to achieve powered flight on Mars. It’s all very sci-fi.
Minutes later – as time moves fast in the world of science and space, the video footage from the perseverance rover captured from 65 metres away showed the successful flight, having reached a height of approximately three metres.
“We can confirm it has made its first flight on Mars,” Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung said. “We’ve been talking for so long about our Wright brothers moment, and here it is.”
More high-resolution images are expected over the next few days as all the data flows back to Earth.
The Ingenuity helicopter was built over three years, costing $105 million. Its whole purpose and mission was to prove it could fly. It was a last-minute addition to NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February.
Unlike a drone, Ingenuity operates entirely based on reprogrammed instructions, using its cameras and sensors to stay on track.
NASA is planning to attempt more challenging flights over the next month, so this is unlikely to be the last we see of Mars video footage.
“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, in a statement.
“We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us,” he added, “but today’s results indicate the sky—at least on Mars—may not be the limit.”