Stunning video of the Ingenuity helicopter lifting off, flying, and landing on Mars gave its NASA team 'goosebumps'

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover took video of the Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars for the first time.
  • The drone’s first flight was “absolutely beautiful” and “flawless,” according to its NASA team.
  • Watch the footage below.
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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter took flight on Mars for the first time on Monday — and the Perseverance rover captured the entire feat in sharp video.

The rover, which carried Ingenuity almost 300 million miles to Mars, perched on an overlook 211 feet away and watched the historic flight take place at 3:34 a.m. ET.

In the video below, you can see Ingenuity begin to spin its rotors, get them up to full speed (five times faster than an Earth helicopter’s rotors), then lift itself 10 feet above the Martian surface. After that, it hovers, pivots towards Perseverance, and lowers itself gently back into the dust.

The entire flight lasted about 40 seconds.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/wMnOo2zcjXA

“Goosebumps. It looks just the way we had tested,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager, said as she presented the video in a post-flight press conference on Monday. “Absolutely beautiful flight. I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”

This was the first powered, controlled flight ever conducted on another planet — NASA’s “Wright brothers moment,” as agency officials call it.

“From everything we’ve seen so far, it was a flawless flight,” Håvard Grip, the helicopter’s chief pilot, said in the briefing. “It was a gentle takeoff. At altitude it gets pushed around a little bit by the wind, but it really maintains station very well, and it stuck the landing right in the place where it was supposed to go.”

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration mission — it won’t conduct any science. However, now that NASA has shown the rotorcraft technology works, future space helicopters could explore canyons, caves, and rocky fields that are too dangerous for rovers. Mars drones could even do reconnaissance for future astronauts.

The first of up to 5 daring helicopter flights 

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying through the Martian skies.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ingenuity has achieved its main goal — to prove rotorcraft technology can work on Mars — but its mission isn’t over yet. Over the next two weeks, the space drone will attempt up to four more flights, venturing higher and farther each time. The next flight could come as soon as Thursday, according to Aung.

“We really want to push the rotorcraft to the limit and really learn and get information from that,” she said.

NASA plans to power up Perseverance’s microphone to include audio in future flight videos, though NASA engineers aren’t sure what it will sound like. If all goes well, Ingenuity’s fifth and final venture could take it up to 15 feet high over 980 feet of Martian ground.

By then, though, “it would be unlikely to land safely, because we’ll start going into unsurveyed areas,” Aung said in a preflight briefing.

“If we do have a bad landing, that will be the end of mission,” she added. “The lifetime will be determined by how well it lands, pretty much.”

Once Ingenuity’s mission is over, the Perseverance rover will continue on its own epic journey: searching for fossils of microbial alien life in the ancient river delta of Jezero Crater.

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