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NASA Mars helicopter Ingenuity completes 'higher, bolder' second flight

Ingenuity reached new heights and lengths during its ambitious second flight on Mars.

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Ingenuity snapped a photo of its own shadow during its second flight on April 22.

NASA/JPL-Caltech
This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

First, you get to Mars. Then, you hover. After that, you start to soar. Earlier this week, NASA's Ingenuity helicopter made history with the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. On Thursday, NASA said the little chopper had completed a more ambitious second flight.

NASA JPL tweeted, "Go big or go home!" when it confirmed the second flight and shared a black-and-white image Ingenuity snapped of its own shadow using a navigation camera.

The first flight on April 19 was a brief hovering exercise that saw the rotorcraft lift off from the Mars surface and reach a height of about 10 feet (3 meters). The Ingenuity team's second-flight plans had a goal of reaching 16 feet (5 meters) with a sideways move of 7 feet (2 meters). It was then set to hover in place and rotate while snapping pictures of its surroundings before returning to land at the center of its Martian airfield.  

The helicopter handles all of the tasks autonomously. Commands are sent from Earth, but there is no real-time human control of the rotorcraft. We're still waiting on all the details of how the second flight went. 

NASA is expecting color images from Ingenuity. We already have a sweet little preview video of the flight courtesy of the Perseverance rover

Ingenuity -- which NASA has described as a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration -- has shown that a small helicopter can function in the challenging conditions of Mars. The planet has a very thin atmosphere compared with Earth.

The small rotorcraft hitched a ride to Mars tucked into the belly of Perseverance, which is camped out at an overlook site to monitor the helicopter's exploits. There's still time left in the chopper's flight test window, so it's likely Ingenuity will fly again.

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