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NASA are preparing a second test flight of their Ingenuity rotorcraft as early as Thursday following a successful vertical lift-off and landing yesterday. The second flight will aim to reach an altitude of 5 m, then fly laterally about 2 m, come back 2 m before landing softly in the same spot. What is discovered over the next few weeks of test flights will help planetary scientists and engineers plan for future missions to Mars and other planets — including the Dragonfly rotorcraft that will head to Saturn’s moon Titan later this decade.

Ingenuity is a 49 cm-tall helicopter technology demonstration that arrived at Mars 18 February attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover. On 3 April, Perseverance set the helicopter onto the surface, which opened a 30-Martian-day testing window. Engineers then began preparing Ingenuity for its first flight by testing the battery, insulation, solar panel and rotor blades. Yet when they did so, engineers discovered a software error, which pushed the flight back by roughly a week.

Once that was fixed, Ingenuity lifted off Mars’ surface yesterday for the first time. It reached an altitude of 3 m, hovered for about five seconds, rotated 60 degrees, hovered for another 20 seconds and then 39 seconds later landed softly, taking images as it did so. Those 39 seconds marked the first flight on another planet, a feat that shows future Martian missions and other planetary explorations have the potential to not only stay on the surface but to also move vertically. “This morning, our dream came true,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager, during a press briefing hours after the flight.

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