NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this shot as it hovered over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which hitched a ride on the bottom side of the Perserverance rover, has transmitted back the first image of its inaugural flight from April 19.

The monochrome image was captured with its navigation camera, which is used to autonomously track the Martian surface during Ingenuity’s flights. This flight marks the ‘first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet.’ Altimeter data from Ingenuity indicates the helicopter climbed to its planned altitude of three meters (10 feet) and maintained a ‘stable hover’ for 30 seconds before safely landing back on the Martian surface. In total, Ingenuity logged 39.1 seconds of flight time.

Members of the NASA Mars Helicopter team inspect the flight model (the actual vehicle going to the Red Planet), inside the Space Simulator, a 25-foot-wide (7.62-meter-wide) vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, on Feb. 1, 2019.

‘Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick, and its flight was not observable from Earth in real time.’ As such, this flight and future flights will be entirely autonomous, ’piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL.’


Below is a video of the first flight as seen live from Mission Control:

‘A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life,’ says NASA. ‘The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).’

An artists’ rendering of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

Further data from the flight, which is likely to include additional images, is expected to be sent in forthcoming downlinks. You can read more information about the historic first flight on NASA’s website. and TIME has published a fantastic article detailing how Ingenuity ‘opens the door to more ambitious missions’ in the future.

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