Watch NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity fly in 3D (video)

NASA shared an amazing 3D video of its Mars helicopter Ingenuity's third successful flight on the Red Planet.

During the little chopper's third test flight, on April 25, Ingenuity lifted off the Martian surface to a height of 16 feet (5 meters) and flew downrange 164 feet (50 m), hitting a top speed of 4.5 mph (7.2 kph) — its fastest speed yet. Using footage of the flight captured by the Perseverance rover, NASA engineers have rendered the helicopter's record-breaking flight in 3D, creating the sensation of witnessing the event firsthand.

The 3D video, which NASA shared on YouTube on Wednesday (May 12), shows the helicopter ascend into the Martian atmosphere, fly off to the right and out of the frame for a while, then return into view to land in nearly the same spot from which it took off.

Video: Perseverance Mars rover captures first sounds of Ingenuity's flight

NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity flies on the Red Planet for the second time on April 22, 2021. This image was captured by the Mastcam-Z camera system aboard NASA's Perseverance rover. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

Perseverance watched the flight with its dual-camera system called Mastcam-Z, which is located on the rover's mast, or "head." A team led by Justin Maki, an imaging scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, stitched the images into a video and reprojected the footage so that the flight appears in 3D the video is watched with color-filtered glasses. The new video of Ingenuity's third flight represents the most extensive 3D video yet from the Mastcam-Z team, according to a statement from NASA.

"The Mastcam-Z video capability was inherited from the Mars Science Laboratory MARDI (Mars Descent Imager) camera," Maki said in the statement. "To be reusing this capability on a new mission by acquiring 3D video of a helicopter flying above the surface of Mars is just spectacular."

You can make your own color-filtered glasses by following a quick DIY tutorial from NASA using cardstock paper, red and cyan cellophane sheets, scissors and glue or tape. Using NASA's 3D glasses template, you can print your Mars-themed glasses, then adhere the red cellophane on the left eye cutout and the cyan cellophane on the right eye cutout.

You can find the full step-by-step instructions for creating your own 3D glasses online. In addition to watching Ingenuity's third test flight, you can also use your new glasses to view a variety of Mars images in 3D.

"A helicopter flying on Mars opens a new era for Mars exploration," Maki said in the statement. "It's a great demonstration of a new technology for exploration. With each flight we open up more possibilities."

The Mars helicopter is a technology demonstration mission designed to show that a small, lightweight helicopter can fly in the thin atmosphere of Mars. Ingenuity successfully flew for the first time above the Red Planet on April 19, followed closely by its second successful flight on April 22.

Its fourth flight on April 30 brought a new record, when the helicopter surpassed the distance flown during its third flight and travelled a whopping 873 feet (266 m). Its fifth flight took place on May 7, during which the helicopter completed its first one-way trip, traveling 423 feet (129 m) and reaching an altitude of 33 feet (10 m) above its new landing field, according to a NASA statement.

Initially, NASA had planned only five test flights. However, Ingenuity performed so well and remains so healthy that NASA decided to extend the mission for an additional 30 days (at least). During this time, the agency will test the helicopter's ability to be an aerial scout for the Perseverance rover, identifying potential locations for further study and safe routes for the rover to travel across the Red Planet. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.