NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has completed a flight on Mars, becoming the first man-made craft to take to the sky on another planet, the US space agency says.
The tiny helicopter, which weighs 1.8 kilograms and is powered by four lithium batteries, took off at about 8.15pm on Monday (AEST) and flew about three metres into the air, briefly hovered in place for 30 seconds and then returned to the surface of Mars, NASA said.
Overall, the flight took 39.1 seconds, NASA said.
“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA chief, said.
“We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit.”
A video posted on Twitter showed the NASA team applauding and cheering as footage from the flight arrived, recorded by the Perseverance rover.
More data is expected to arrive from the flight.
The Mars footage showed the helicopter flying in the air and the shadow of Ingenuity from above.
“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, manager of the project.
“We have been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment on Mars and here it is,” she said.
Wilbur and Orville Wright undertook the first motorised flight on Earth in 1903.
“Let’s enjoy this moment and then after that, let’s get back to work. More flights!” Ms Aung said.
Ingenuity’s maiden flight had been delayed several times due to technical issues.
The helicopter is to be tested several more times in the coming weeks.
There are extreme conditions on Mars, including falling as low as -90 degrees at night, which can be an issue for batteries.
Due to the planet’s thin atmosphere, Ingenuity’s rotors had to accelerate to 2537 rotations a minute, much more than is needed for helicopters on Earth.
Ingenuity travelled to Mars aboard the Perseverance rover, which weighs about a tonne and is the size of a small car.
The rover arrived on the Red Planet in February after travelling 472 million kilometres over 203 days of flight.
It landed in a dried lake spanning 45 kilometres called the Jezero Crater, which it is to inspect in the coming two years.
The construction and development of the rover took eight years and cost about $US2.5 billion ($A3.2 billion).
Perseverance is meant to search for traces of microbial life on Mars and examine the climate and geology of the planet.