NASA's Mars Helicopter Took a Photo of Its Rover Buddy While Flying

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter is continually breaking new ground in the realm of extraterrestrial flight, and also aerial photography.
April 28, 2021, 4:32pm
NASA's Mars Helicopter Took a Photo of Its Rover Buddy While Flying
Image: NASA

In the days since NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its first historic ascent on the surface of Mars, the pioneering aircraft has continued to push the limits of extraterrestrial flight. Ingenuity has another talent, too: photography.

Ingenuity has now flown three times, including a trip on Sunday in which it zoomed 50 meters downrange of its airfield, which is newly named after the Wright Brothers, at a top speed of two meters per second. The round trip covered the length of a football field, and the Martian aircraft also found the time to take some aerial images—including one of the nearby Perseverance rover on the ground.  

Perseverance can be spotted in the top left of Ingenuity’s picture, which was taken with the helicopter’s color camera. Ingenuity is also equipped with a black-and-white navigational camera trained on the ground, which has captured surreal images of the shadow the copter casts on the Martian surface.

Perseverance is parked at a safe distance from the airfield, at a site called Van Zyl Overlook. In addition to starring in shots taken by Ingenuity, the rover has been recording its airborne partner’s flights with its Mastcam-Z instrument. The footage of the first ascent was notable for its sheer historic nature, but the latest video of the most recent third flight is the most exciting, as Ingenuity zips right out of the frame.

Ingenuity leads are now planning the copter’s fourth flight, which should take place sometime this week and is expected to cover more distance than previous trips. The fifth and final flight is expected to be the most audacious of them all, potentially covering a distance of several hundred meters across the surface of Mars. 

“We do want to push it to the limit,” said  MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at an April 19 press briefing. “We’re going to go further, faster, definitely, especially towards the end of the experimental window. We will be pushing the envelope and really stretching and understanding how well we can fly.”