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Mars, NASA
Courtesy of NASA

NASA has captured the first-ever colour photo of Mars

The interplanetary image was taken by NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter

NASA has captured the first-ever colour image of neighbouring planet Mars

Yesterday (April 25), NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter, a small, remote-operated drone, took flight for a third time on the Red Planet. Rising to a height of 5 metres before speeding off laterally for 50 metres, the miniature chopper was in the air for a total of 80 seconds, during which it successfully captured the first-ever colour photo of Mars.

The photo shows the planet’s rocky landscape, which is covered in an expanse of red-orange sand dunes. According to NASA, the photo is the “first color image of the Martian surface taken by an aerial vehicle while it was aloft”.

With this third flight in the history books, the Ingenuity Mars helicopter team is looking ahead to planning its fourth flight in a few days time. On its first flight, Ingenuity spent roughly 40 seconds off the ground, hovering just about three metres, while the second test went hire, closer to five metres, spending approximately one minute in the air. 

The biggest difficulty in flying on the Red Planet is the extremely thin atmosphere, which has just one per cent of the density here on Earth, making it hard for the Ingenuity to get off the ground. 

Also, the distance from Earth to Mars puts remote control out of question, as it takes radio waves over 16 minutes to cover the distance between the two planets. Instead, Ingenuity takes its commands from the Perseverance rover, the mission’s main robot.

NASA is taking the Ingenuity helicopter on two more flights before Perseverance goes on its primary mission of searching for life in Mars‘ Jezero crater. If the mission is successful, this will mean that work can begin on building colonies on the planet.

Last week, NASA successfully conducted an experiment to create oxygen on the planet’s surface. “This is a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars,” Jim Reuter, an associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), said in a statement. “MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment) has more work to do, but the results from this technology demonstration are full of promise as we move toward our goal of one day seeing humans on Mars.”

This is all good news for Elon Musk, whose SpaceX project hopes to have the first people living on Mars by 2030, and an ambitious target of one million people by 2050.

Architecture studio ABIBOO has also revealed its plans to create the first self-sustainable city on the Red Planet, which is set to be ready for residents in 2100. The city will be called Nüwa, and will be located at Tempe Mensa on one of the Martian cliffs. Its position inside of a rock on the steep cliff will protect its 250,000 residents from radiation and meteorites, while still giving them access to indirect sunlight.

Speaking to Dazed in a previous interview, Mars Society president Robert Zubrin said: “The idea was to create not just a base where a lot of science can be supported, but to create a society which will only grow if people want to live there.”

Enjoy this clip from the the Ingenuity’s third flight below.