The United States space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter has completed its third flight on Mars, flying “faster and farther” than it did in any test flights on Earth.
In a statement on Sunday, NASA said the helicopter travelled 50 metres (164 feet) at a top speed of two metres per second (6.6 feet per second).
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It was Ingenuity’s third flight since it made its historic first hop on the Red Planet earlier this month.
“Today’s flight was what we planned for, and yet it was nothing short of amazing,” said Dave Lavery, programme executive for Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Ingenuity reached Mars in February on board the Perseverance rover after a seven-month journey from Earth.
Its inaugural Martian flight on April 19 marked the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.
NASA said most of the helicopter’s 80-second flight on Sunday, captured by Ingenuity’s cameras, would be sent back to Earth in the coming days.
Third flight in the history books✅
Our #MarsHelicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther. The space chopper is demonstrating critical capabilities that could enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars & beyond. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/Uaxrr23Rfh
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 25, 2021
The helicopter will also be making its fourth flight on Mars shortly, the space agency said.
The flights are challenging due to unique conditions on the planet – namely, the rarefied atmosphere on Mars that has less than 1 percent of the density of Earth.
The Ingenuity experiment will end in one month to let Perseverance return to its main task: searching for signs of past microbial life on Mars.
Last week, NASA said it had achieved another first in its Mars mission after it converted carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere into pure, breathable oxygen.
The unprecedented extraction of oxygen was achieved on Tuesday by an experimental device on board Perseverance.