Let there be flight! Incredible video shows NASA’s Ingenuity fly farther and faster than ever before on Mars

NASA’s Ingenuity aircraft completed its longest and fastest mission on Sunday, breaking records on Mars and pioneering a new era of off-world spaceflight. Time is running out for the team to complete their final missions, however.

The aircraft made history last Monday, rising three meters above the Martian surface to complete the first controlled, powered flight by a human-engineered craft on another planet.

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FILE PHOTO. Ingenuity Mars Helicopter © Reuters / NASA / JPL-Caltech
NASA celebrates first ever powered flight on another planet, as Ingenuity helicopter rises above Mars

Then, on Thursday, Ingenuity soared to an impressive five meters in the air and tested its ability to shimmy from side to side. 

On Sunday, the spacecopter lifted off from the Red Planet’s surface at 12:33pm local time (1:31am ET back here on Earth). 

It rose to five meters again before revving up its engines to a whopping two meters per second (6.5 feet per second), at which point it flew through the Martian sky, reaching a distance of 50 meters (164 feet) from its take off point.

The entire flight lasted just 80 seconds but marked a huge milestone in the history of human-engineered spaceflight.

“With this flight, we are demonstrating critical capabilities that will enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future Mars missions,” David Lavery, the project’s program executive said in a press release, describing the whole endeavor as “nothing short of amazing.” 

NASA now aims to gather as much flight data as possible in order to improve humanity’s off-world aerial capabilities, with the goal of completing at least two more flights in the coming weeks, during which the agency plans to push the aircraft as far and fast as they can.

According to Ingenuity team specialists, the aircraft’s fifth and final mission could see it travel as far as 300 meters (980 feet), though senior staff have expressed a desire to push that out to 600 meters (2,000 feet) if possible. 

However, they are fully aware that this fifth flight is likely to be Ingenuity’s last hurrah, as it will most likely venture into dangerous, unsurveyed areas of the planet with the odds of a safe landing stacked heavily against the plucky probe.

“If we do have a bad landing, that will be the end of mission,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said. “The lifetime will be determined by how well it lands, pretty much.”

NASA missed out on the first two weeks of a 30-day window for safe flights through the Martian sky as a result of software issues and other associated delays.

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