Nasa’s miniature robot helicopter Ingenuity performed a successful takeoff and landing on Mars early on Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft over the surface of another planet, the US space agency said.
The twin-rotor whirligig’s debut on the Red Planet marked a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment for Nasa, which said success could pave the way for new modes of exploration on Mars.
Mission managers at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as engineering data beamed back from Mars confirmed that the 1.8-kg solar-powered helicopter had performed its maiden 39-second flight as planned three hours earlier.
Altimeter readings from the rotorcraft showed that it became airborne at 3:34am EDT (0734 GMT), climbed as programmed to a height of 3 metres, then hovered steadily in place over the Martian surface for half a minute before touching back down safely on its four legs, Nasa said. During Nasa’s presentation of the event livestreamed from JPL headquarters, mission managers also displayed its first images from the flight.
A black-and-white photo taken by a downward-pointing onboard camera while the helicopter was aloft showed the distinct shadow cast by Ingenuity in the Martian sunlight onto the ground just below it. And a snippet of colour video footage captured by a separate camera mounted on the Nasa’s Mars rover Perseverance, parked about 200 feet away, showed the helicopter in flight against the orange-coloured landscape surrounding it.