NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has made its historic first Red Planet flight — and the photos are unbelievable.
The small helicopter — it’s just 19 inches tall (48 centimeters) — took off Monday (April 19) on the first of what are expected to be a half-dozen flights on Mars. All told, the flight was scheduled to last about 40 seconds, team members said.
In addition to an aerial photograph taken by Ingenuity, the NASA team also received video footage from the Perseverance rover that captured the helicopter’s transition as it rose up from the Martian surface, hovered briefly and then gently touching down again.
Particularly stunning is the black-and-white image taken by the helicopter itself that shows the view looking straight down at the surface of Mars. On display are rover tracks left by Ingenuity’s larger companion, the Perseverance rover, as well as the shadow cast by the helicopter itself. Its boxy core and four rotors are clearly visible.
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The photo was greeted with cheers in the control room set up at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California for receiving data from the helicopter’s first flight attempt. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many team members joined the event virtually.
The successful sortie came after a tense week for the team when an aborted high-speed spin test, the final milestone before liftoff, delayed the flight attempt.
The $85 million Ingenuity arrived on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, having made the long trek to the Red Planet strapped into the belly of the car-sized Perseverance rover. The rover drove the helicopter out to a flat patch of Martian ground that the team selected as an airfield, then left Ingenuity to fend for itself on April 3. Since then, the little chopper has been self-sufficient while the rover trundled a safe distance away to watch the flight attempt.
Because Ingenuity is only a technology demonstration project, not a key part of Perseverance’s science mission, the team has just a month with the machine, during which it may fly up to five times.
If all goes well, each flight will become a little more adventurous — with photos and videos to match, of course.
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