NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter flew to Mars, becoming the first man-made device to fly skyward on another planet, according to the US space agency.
The small helicopter, which weighs 1.8 kilograms and is powered by four lithium batteries, took off around 8:15 p.m. on Monday (AEST) and flew about three meters in the air, briefly hovered in place for 30 seconds, then returned to the surface of Mars, NASA said.
Overall, the flight lasted 39.1 seconds, NASA said.
“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and rich tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once deemed impossible,” said Steve Jurczyk, acting chief of NASA.
“We don’t know exactly where the ingenuity will take us, but today’s results indicate that the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit.”
A video posted to Twitter showed the NASA team clapping and cheering as footage of the flight arrived, recorded by the Perseverance rover.
More data is expected to arrive from the flight.
Images from Mars showed the helicopter flying through the air and Ingenuity’s shadow from above.
“We can now say that human beings flew a rotorcraft to another planet,” said MiMi Aung, project manager.
“We’ve been talking for so long about our Wright brothers’ moment on Mars and here it is,” she said.
Wilbur and Orville Wright undertook the first powered flight on Earth in 1903.
“Let’s take this moment and then get back to work. No more flights! Ms. Aung said.
Ingenuity’s maiden flight had been delayed several times due to technical issues.
The helicopter is to be tested several times in the coming weeks.
There are extreme conditions on Mars, including drops as low as -90 degrees at night, which can be a problem for the batteries.
Due to the planet’s weak atmosphere, Ingenuity’s rotors had to accelerate to 2,537 rotations per minute, far more than what is required for helicopters on Earth.
Ingenuity traveled to Mars on the Perseverance rover, which weighs about a ton and is the size of a small car.
The rover arrived on the Red Planet in February after traveling 472 million kilometers in 203 flying days.
He landed in a 45-kilometer dry lake called Jezero Crater, which he is due to inspect within the next two years.
The construction and development of the rover took eight years and cost around $ 2.5 billion ($ A3.2 billion).
Perseverance is aimed at looking for traces of microbial life on Mars and examining the climate and geology of the planet.