NASA officials have released the first footage of their 4-pound Ingenuity helicopter soaring over the surface of Mars, in what was the first controlled flight by an aircraft on another planet.
The brief clip was transmitted back to Earth shortly after NASA got confirmation that the out-of-this-world whirlybird successfully took to the air.
The chopper could be seen hovering about 10 feet above the Martian surface for about 30 seconds, before rotating and touching back down on all four legs.
Ingenuity’s maiden voyage opens the door to further aerial exploration of the red planet, NASA said. The agency will dispatch the vehicle for more flights before its mission ends — and scientists hope to “push it to the limit,” in the words of team leader Mimi Aung.
“We want to push. We want to push against the wind. We want to push against the speed,” Aung told reporters.
“Ultimately we expect the helicopter to meet its limit.”
The atmosphere on Mars is incredibly thin — comparable to three-times the elevation of the Himalaya Mountains.
Aung and her team said the brief flight matched pre-flight simulations to the T.
“It did it just perfectly,” pilot Havard Grip said during a press conference hours after the pre-programmed flight 173 million miles away.
“From everything we’ve seen so far, it was a flawless flight.”
Ingenuity has invited widespread comparisons to the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The landing site on Mars will be called “Wright Brothers Field,” NASA said.
“What the Ingenuity team has done [is] freed us from the surface now forever in planetary exploration,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We can now make a combination of course of driving on the surface and sampling the surface, and doing reconnaissance and even scientific experimentation on inaccessible places for a rover.”