Nasa has performed a world-first feat by successfully flying a miniature helicopter above the surface of Mars on Monday, April 19.
The flight marks the first time a controlled flight of an aircraft has taken place on another planet.
What did the aircraft do?
Nasa flew a 1.8kg helicopter, named Ingenuity, above the surface of Mars, with the mini vehicle descending to an altitude of three meters above the surface of the planet.
It was airborne for less than a minute, rotating then landing gently, on all four legs, on the surface of the planet.
The flight took place on the floor of a Martian basin named Jezero Crater. The success of the Ingenuity flight depended on its ability to execute pre-programmed flight instructions autonomously.
The Nasa team are likening the helicopter experiment to the Wright Brothers’ first aeroplane flight 117 years ago, with a piece of wing fabric from the original Wright flyer attached to the Ingenuity’s solar panel.
What time was the flight?
The experiment started at 8.30am BST / 7.30am GMT time, with the data confirming whether the flight was successful or not reaching Nasa a few hours later.
Is footage of the flight available?
Because there’s a long delay between Mars and Earth, the live video of the flight probably won’t be available for a few days.
What else are Nasa doing on Mars?
It’s expected that Nasa will try some additional, lengthier flights in the coming weeks - though a rest period of four to five days will be required to recharge the helicopter’s batteries.
Nasa hope the technology will help pave the way for aerial surveillance of Mars along with other destinations in the solar system like Venus or Saturn’s moon, Titan.
The Ingenuity was brought to Mars by the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, which arrived on the planet last year as part of Nasa’s long-term plans for exploration of the Red Planet.
The mission intends to address key questions about the potential for life on Mars, with the Perseverance rover looking for signs of habitable conditions on the planet in the ancient past, as well as looking for signs of past microbial life.
A drill on the Perseverance allows the rover to collect core samples and store them in a “cache” on the surface of Mars.
Scientists hope a future mission may be able to collect these samples and bring them back to Earth for analysis.
The Perseverance mission will also involve scientists testing a method for producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, improving landing techniques and analysing environmental conditions which could affect future astronauts living and working on Mars.