NASA’s Mars helicopter flies across the planet’s surface for the first time

NASA has successfully flown a helicopter across the surface of Mars twice.

Scientists, who were struggling to get the software working and had questioned whether they would be able to make the flight at all, made the breakthrough just days later.

The US-based space agency spent six years developing Ingenuity, which was carried to the red planet last month on its rover Perseverance.

Originally, NASA aimed to fly “no earlier than” April 11 but software trouble hit the team the night before when a safety system inside the helicopter brought an end to a test of the rotors.

Engineers then spent the following week attempting to eliminate the issues and the flight was able to be tested with the first flight taking place at 7.30am GMT on April 19.

Ingenuity, a 1.8kg craft, ascended to an altitude of three metres, hovered for 30 seconds, rotated and then descended back to the surface.

The news was met by cheers and applause at mission control, and pictures from the mission showed the craft hovering.

The second test on April 22, saw the helicopter hover slightly higher, to an altitude of five rather than three meters.

It then briefly hovered before it tilted itself to be able to move sideways for two meters.

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MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said: "We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet."

NASA hopes Ingenuity could pave the way for aerial surveillance of Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan.

The immediate goal, however, was achieving "that Wright Brothers moment, getting powered, controlled flight, then adding mobility and adding other capabilities like any flight-test program," said Bobby Braun, planetary science director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory [JPL].

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