Mars helicopter impresses researchers, begins bold new mission

NASA scientists are putting Ingenuity to the ultimate test after they say the Mars helicopter far surpassed their expectations.

The helicopter was originally built to withstand its 30-day mission, which it did, meeting the researchers' goals of taking off and landing all three times.

Ingenuity’s first flight took off April 19, launching just 10 feet above the ground, turned, hovered and then landed.

Researchers were unsure of the outcome, as Mars has a very thin, low-density atmosphere, according to NASA.

It may not be a high altitude, but Ingenuity’s team called the flight a major milestone.

MiMi Aung, a Perseverance scientist, pointed out that the Mars helicopter is leading the way for future aerial research.

During Ingenuity’s first flight, it took historic aerial images, the first ever on Mars.

By the helicopter’s third flight, it reached about 50 meters out.

"It plays peek-a-boo going on and off the screen and every time, I just love it," chief engineer Bob Balaram said with a big smile on his face.

Since the first three flights on Mars were a success, engineers announced the next mission will be even bolder.

The team plans on sending Ingenuity on a 266-meter, roundtrip flight to take additional images to locate a new flight pad.

If the helicopter continues to succeed, a fifth and last flight will take place.

"The helicopter is starting to look at areas of interest to the rover. And then after flight five, we will actually begin a set of activities we need to complete on Perseverance in order to enable sampling," said Jennifer Trosper, Perseverance rover deputy project manager.

The main objective now, according to Ken Farley, a Perseverance project scientist, is to eventually locate an area on Mars with the possibility of habitable land.

Farley says it will be a years-long intensive investigation.

"Looking for interesting rocks. But what we believe we will find in this area is rocks in this area that represent the oldest material which is present on the crater floor," Farley said.

Watch NASA’s full announcement here.