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Today, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history by being the first to fly horizontally. The tissue-box-sized rotorcraft took off at 5:33 a.m. EDT from the Red Planet’s “Wright Brother’s Field” and flew for 51.9 seconds before safely landing.

Today’s flight follows Ingenuity’s first flight on April 19, when the small helicopter started its 30-day test program. Owing to the minutes-long delay in signal transmission to and from Earth, the second flight was also carried out autonomously. The Perseverance rover relayed telemetry data to Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California during the flight and captured video for later transmission.

After reaching a height of 16 feet (5 meters), Ingenuity tilted its rotors by 5 degrees, producing lateral thrust that propelled the craft for 7 feet ( 2 m). It then hovered in position, turning in various directions for its onboard camera, before returning to the field’s center and landing softly.

While in flight, Ingenuity captured this photo of its own shadow. / NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration because, despite Perseverance’s encouragement, it isn’t considered a critical part of the main project. This is due to the fact that NASA engineers had to deal with a lot of unknowns in addition to the well-known challenges of flying on Mars, such as the thin atmosphere, low gravity, and freezing nighttime temperatures.

After two good flights, the Ingenuity team is now considering more optimistic objectives for future experiments.

“So far, the engineering telemetry we have received and analyzed tell us that the flight met expectations and our prior computer modeling has been accurate,” says Bob Balaram, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter’s chief engineer at JPL. “We have two flights of Mars under our belts, which means that there is still a lot to learn during this month of Ingenuity.”

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