NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin air, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment.
The mini four-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter named Ingenuity, in fact, carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Flight controllers in California confirmed Ingenuity’s brief hop after receiving data via the Perseverance rover, which stood watch more than 200 feet (65 meters) away.
Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.
Project manager MiMi Aung and her team had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded 178 million miles (287 million kilometres) away.
After the announcement, Aung was jubilant as she ripped up the papers holding the plan in case the flight had failed.