A remarkable image taken this past Sunday by the Ingenuity helicopter is providing one of the most unique views of a Martian rover we’ve ever seen.
Way up there in the top left-hand corner of the image is the Perseverance rover, pointing its own cameras directly back at Ingenuity. The NASA helicopter captured this photo on Sunday, April 25, during its third flight, as the drone was flying laterally some 16.5 feet (5 meters) above the Martian surface. Ingenuity and Perseverance, who arrived together on February 18, 2021, were about 280 feet (85 meters) apart when the image was taken.
This is exactly the kind of photo I dreamed about when learning of the Ingenuity mission. Various rovers and probes have provided intimate views of the Red Planet at eye level, but this helicopter is offering a bird’s eye view of the rocky Martian landscape—and of its six-wheeled companion.
Indeed, this view of a Martian probe from a slightly elevated vantage point is without equal. Sure, rovers have taken selfies, and satellites have spotted them from Mars orbit, but this image will go down in history as being the first to show a rover from the perspective of an aerial drone.
Weighing just 25 pounds (11.5 kg), Sojourner became the first wheeled vehicle to scoot around on another planet. How very fitting therefore, that Ingenuity—the first vehicle to achieve powered flight on another planet—should take a similarly momentous photo.
Ingenuity’s third flight was its most daring yet, in which the helicopter flew laterally for 164 feet (50 meters), and then returned to its original position, in a flight that lasted for 80 seconds. Mission controllers plan to push Ingenuity even harder, possibly risking a crash, to fully evaluate its capabilities. This test demonstration will hopefully set the stage for increasingly ambitious projects involving aerial drones on Mars, allowing us to dream yet again about even greater accomplishments.