NASA’s Mars helicopter soars higher, longer on 2nd flight

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In this image made available by NASA, the Mars Ingenuity helicopter hovers above the surface of the planet during its second flight on Thursday, April 22, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s little Mars helicopter aced its second test flight Thursday, soaring even higher and longer than before.

The 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) chopper, named Ingenuity, hovered longer and also flew side to side this time, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. It achieved the intended altitude of 16 feet (5 meters) and even accelerated sideways 7 feet (2 meters).

This hop lasted 52 seconds, 13 seconds longer than the first one.

“Go big or go home!” JPL tweeted in announcing the Earth Day news.

The success came just three days after Ingenuity made the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet. The helicopter carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

Flight controllers had to wait four hours before learning Thursday's outcome. Like it did during Monday's 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) hop, the helicopter sent back a black and white photo showing its shadow against the dusty, rock-strewn surface now known as Wright Brothers Field.

“It sounds simple, but there are many unknowns regarding how to fly a helicopter on Mars," Ingenuity’s chief pilot, Havard Grip, said from JPL in a statement. “That’s why we’re here — to make these unknowns known.”

One of the challenges is the planet’s extremely thin atmosphere — 1% that of Earth's.