Who Is MiMi Aung? NASA Scientist Tears up Contingency Speech After Ingenuity Flight Success

A NASA scientist was spotted ripping up a contingency speech in celebration after the space agency's Mars Ingenuity helicopter made history on Monday by performing the first-ever controlled, powered flight on another planet.

The scientist in question, MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager, has been in charge of the team that developed the experimental vehicle and oversaw its historic first flight on Mars.

A NASA livestream showed the moments that the Ingenuity team began receiving the first pieces of data from the drone's flight on Mars. During the broadcast—after the team received confirmation that the flight had been successful—Aung was seen ripping up a set of contingency speech papers that she had prepared in case the test had failed.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, later posted a clip of the moment on Twitter, writing: "I love this!"

According to NASA, Ingenuity first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT, climbing to an altitude of 10 feet and maintaining a stable hover for 30 seconds. The vehicle then descended, and landed safely on the Martian surface, clocking a total of 39.1 seconds of flight in the red planet's thin atmosphere.

NASA engineers could not observe the flight, which was conducted autonomously, in real time given that data has to travel hundreds of millions of miles between the red planet and Earth.

As a result, the Ingenuity team were only able to confirm the success of the first flight several hours after it had actually happened—at around 6:46 a.m.—once data from the test had been downloaded and analyzed.

Following confirmation of Ingenuity's successful first flight, Aung said: "We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is. We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next."

"History shows they got back to work—to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft— and so will we."

I love this! Ingenuity Project Manager MiMi Aung rips up contingency papers after first successful #MarsHelicopter flight is confirmed.

Congratulations to the team for making history this morning by accomplishing something that has never been done before! pic.twitter.com/aELSKWAnra

— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) April 19, 2021

Aung joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California—where Ingenuity was developed—in 1990.

An electronic engineer by trade, she began working on projects related to spaceflight and NASA's Deep Space Network—a global network of communication facilities that supports the agency's interplanetary spacecraft missions.

In 2015, Aung was appointed head of the Mars helicopter mission. The drone would be carried to Mars by NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed on the red planet on February 18.

Aung was born in Illinois to parents from Myanmar. She moved with her parents to the southeast Asian country at the age of two, but returned to the United States on her own at the age of 16 to pursue her education.

Ingenuity Project Manager MiMi Aung
A screenshot from a live NASA broadcast showing Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung ripping up her contingency speech after confirmation of the first controlled, powered flight on Mars on Monday, April 19. NASA/JPL-Caltech