Mars helicopter Ingenuity has completed its historic flight on the red planet and safely landed back on the surface, the U.S. National Aeronautics said, marking the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
"Goosebumps. It looks just the way we had tested it in our test chambers," Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung said in a news briefing after the flight. "Absolutely beautiful flight. I don't think I can ever stop watching it over and over again."
On Monday, Ingenuity, a technology demonstration, flew for about 40 seconds in the early morning hours of the U.S. east coast time. The four-pound helicopter spun up its two 4-foot blades, rose 10 feet (3 meters) in the air, hovered, snapped a shot, and touched back down on Mars.
So far, the tiny helicopter has accomplished a number of feats, including wiggling its blades and surviving the freezing cold nights on Mars.
And thanks to NASA's Perseverance rover, which filmed the flight from 230 feet (70 meters) away using its powerful Mastcam-Z camera system, we have high-definition documentation of this otherworldly Wright Brothers moment.
The Perseverance rover aids communication between the helicopter and its mission team on Earth. It obtained the flight instructions from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and transmitted them to the helicopter. Perseverance is parked 215 feet (65 meters) away from the helicopter, allowing it to safely observe the flight and capture photographs and videos.
During the hover, the helicopter shot images at a rate of 30 times per second to feed into the navigation computer. This made Ingenuity remained level and in the center of its 33-by-33-feet (10-by-10-meter) airfield.
As the helicopter landed on Mars, it transmitted data to Earth through the rover.
On Feb. 18, Perseverance touched down in an area known as Jezero crater. Until March 21, the helicopter was folded up under Perseverance's belly and protected by a shield.
Perseverance rode around for a few weeks looking for a flat location for Ingenuity to start. Then, on April 3, Ingenuity slowly unfolded itself and was gently lowered to the ground underneath Perseverance. The rover sped away to get Ingenuity out of its shadow and enable the helicopter to charge its batteries with its solar panel, providing it with enough power to survive the freezing Martian night
Now that the first flight has gone well, the team at JPL hopes to fly up to four more times during Ingenuity's mission, which could begin as soon as April 22. Each will be a little more daring and risky, Aung said.