NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter took flight on Mars for the first time on Monday – and the Perseverance rover captured the entire feat in sharp video.
The rover, which carried Ingenuity almost 300 million miles to Mars, perched on an overlook 64 meters (211 feet) away and watched the historic flight take place at 3:34 am ET.
In the video below, you can see Ingenuity begin to spin its rotors, get them up to full speed (five times faster than an Earth helicopter’s rotors), and then lift itself 3 meters (10 feet) above the Martian surface. After that, it hovers, pivots toward Perseverance, and lowers itself gently back into the dust.
The entire flight lasted about 40 seconds.
“Goosebumps – it looks just the way we had tested,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said as she presented the video in a post-flight press conference on Monday. “Absolutely beautiful flight – I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”
This was the first powered controlled flight ever conducted on another planet – NASA’s “Wright brothers moment,” as agency officials call it.
“From everything we’ve seen so far, it was a flawless flight,” Håvard Grip, the helicopter’s chief pilot, said in the briefing. “It was a gentle takeoff. At altitude, it gets pushed around a little bit by the wind, but it really maintains station very well, and it stuck the landing right in the place where it was supposed to go.”
Ingenuity is a technology-demonstration mission – it won’t conduct any science. But now that NASA has shown that the rotorcraft technology works, future space helicopters could explore canyons, caves, and rocky fields that are too dangerous for rovers. Mars drones could even do reconnaissance for future astronauts.
The first of up to 5 daring helicopter flights
Ingenuity has achieved its main goal – to prove rotorcraft technology can work on Mars – but its mission isn’t over. Over the next two weeks, the space drone will attempt up to four more flights, venturing higher and farther each time. The next flight could come as soon as Thursday, according to Aung.
“We really want to push the rotorcraft to the limit and really learn and get information from that,” she said.
NASA plans to power up Perseverance’s microphone to include audio in future flight videos, though NASA engineers aren’t sure what it will sound like. If all goes well, Ingenuity’s fifth and final venture could take it up to 4.5 meters (15 feet) high over 300 meters (980 feet) of Martian ground.
But by then, “it would be unlikely to land safely because we’ll start going into unsurveyed areas,” Aung said in a preflight briefing.
“If we do have a bad landing, that will be the end of mission,” she added. “The lifetime will be determined by how well it lands, pretty much.”
Once Ingenuity’s mission is over, the Perseverance rover will continue on its own journey: searching for fossils of microbial alien life in the ancient river delta of Jezero Crater.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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