This video grab made from a NASA live stream on April 19, 2021 shows the agency's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying over the surface of Mars. NASA successfully flew the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars on April 19, data downloaded from the aircraft confirmed. (AFP/NASA)
NASA successfully flew the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars on Monday, according to data and images sent back to Earth.
"Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight -- the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet," announced an engineer in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the control room cheered.
A short clip sent back by the Perseverance rover showed the four pound chopper grounded at first, hovering three meters above the Martian surface, then touching back down.
Ingenuity itself sent back a still black-and-white image from its downward pointing camera, showing its own shadow cast on the surface.
"We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet!" said lead engineer MiMi Aung to her team.
"We've been talking so long about our Wright brothers' moment on Mars, and here it is," she added.
The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.
NASA had originally planned the flight for April 11 but postponed it over a software issue that was identified during a planned high-speed test of the aircraft's rotors.
The issue has since been resolved, and the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) drone could achieve its feat by around 3:30 am Eastern Time (0730 GMT).
Data, however, won't arrive until several hours later.
"That's because Mars is over 178 million miles (286 million kilometers) away, so there's a little bit of a delay," said Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Taryn Bailey during a webcast.
"The data is expected to hit the Deep Space Network at about 3:34am Pacific Time (6:34 Eastern Time, 1034 GMT), and we'll start processing the data shortly after that to see how we did," she added.
The Deep Space Network (DSN) is NASA's international array of giant radio antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft mission.
"Our team has been working on the Mars helicopter for over six years, and unfortunately even longer towards this ultimate dream," added lead engineer MiMi Aung.
The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.
The helicopter traveled to Mars attached to the underside of the rover Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Ingenuity's goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won't contribute to Perseverance's science goals.
But it is hoped that Ingenuity can pave the way for future flyers that revolutionize our exploration of celestial bodies because they can reach areas that rovers can't go, and travel much faster.