NASA has made history with humankind’s first ever flight on another planet in what has been billed a “Wright Brothers moment”.
The space agency’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February, recently deployed a 1.8kg helicopter specially made for Martian conditions.
The Mars-copter – called Ingenuity – rose just three metres off the surface at a speed of one metre per second, and hovered for 30 seconds before swivelling and touching back down.
It was all done with controllers millions of miles away at NASA headquarters, where operators had to wait more than three hours for confirmation.
Watch the moment NASA’s helicopter took off from the Martian surface
The chopper has no scientific objective – engineers just want to know if they’ve managed to take flight on Mars.
Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA, had earlier said: “Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration.”
A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight in 1903 is now aboard Ingenuity.
But flight on Mars was fraught with difficulty and there was no guarantee the copter would take off and land in one piece.
While the red planet has significant gravity – roughly one-third of Earth’s – its atmosphere is just 1% as dense as Earth’s at the surface, meaning there is far less air for Ingenuity to chop into.
Winds can also whip around quicker than they did during testing stages on Earth.
“Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” said Bob Balaram earlier, the chopper’s chief engineer.