NASA Mars Photos Show Ingenuity Helicopter's Historic First Flight

The first images of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter flying above the surface of Mars have been released just minutes after the space agency announced the first flight had been successful.

The first image the team received was taken by Ingenuity's on-board navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. Seen below, it shows the shadow of Ingenuity cast onto the Martian surface.

Ingenuity photo
A photo taken by Ingenuity's on-board cameras shows the helicopter's shadow cast onto the Martian surface. NASA livestream screenshot. NASA

Taryn Bailey, a mechanical engineer on the Ingenuity team, said on a NASA livestream: "So the onboard navigation camera points straight down so we're seeing its shadow right now."

A few moments later, the team received what appeared to be footage showing the helicopter in flight above the surface of Mars. This was released as a .GIF image on Twitter, in which the helicopter can be seen moving slightly through the air and also spinning its blades on the ground.

Ingenuity flying
A photo taken from the Perseverance rover shows Ingenuity mid-flight; although the perspective makes it slightly difficult to tell. NASA livestream screenshot. NASA

You wouldn’t believe what I just saw.

More images and video to come...#MarsHelicopter

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021

Bailey said the Perseverance footage "shows us hovering 3 meters above the Martian surface and then touching back down. It's amazing, brilliant. Everyone is super excited!"

The images came through to NASA hours after the helicopter made its first flight earlier on Monday morning. The agency said it was targeting a time of 3:30am EDT for the first flight.

Data and images then took a few hours to be beamed back to Earth due to the huge distance between them; 140 million miles on average. Bigger files, such as video clips, may take longer to be received than photos or flight telemetry data.

MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity project, tore up the contingency speech she had prepared in case the helicopter's flight did not go to plan, and called the helicopter's first Mars flight a "Wright brothers moment," referring to the aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright.

She added: "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."

NASA expects more video footage to come through of the helicopter's flight later today. The Perseverance rover should have captured more of the flight using its on-board cameras.

Ingenuity was built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory center. It was dropped onto the Martian surface by the Perseverance rover, which had safely stored it in its underside.

The purpose of the Ingenuity flight is to demonstrate the technology for powered flight on other worlds. As a result of its successful flight today, Ingenuity could pave the way for future helicopters on Mars that could transport things or access difficult terrain.

Update 4/19/20, 8:50 a.m. ET: This article has been updated to include more information about Ingenuity and further comment from the team.