MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), was recently captured on camera ripping her prepared contingency speech in excitement after the successful flight of the helicopter on Mars.
The helicopter first became airborne on Monday at 3:34 a.m. EDT, according to NASA
. Ingenuity hovered for 30 seconds at 10 feet above the Martian surface before landing safely for a total flight time of 39.1 seconds, becoming the “first-ever controlled, powered flight on another planet,” Newsweek
Aung stood up from her chair and immediately ripped the contingency speech she prepared in the event the flight test would fail, as seen during Monday’s live stream of the operation.
Since there is a vast distance between Earth and Mars, team members had to initiate the flight autonomously. The Ingenuity team had to then download the data from the helicopter and analyze it from Earth. They were able to take a look at the specifics at 6:46 a.m. EDT, hours after the event occurred.
“We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is,” Aung said. “We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work — to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft — and so will we.”
Born in Illinois, Aung moved back with her parents to their home country of Myanmar when she was two and a half years old. She returned to the U.S. at 16 to pursue her education and a career.
Aung studied electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, and it was during her master’s degree that a professor spoke with her about deep space exploration at NASA, according to School Observatory
. She began working for NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, Calif., in 1990, and in 2015, she became the head of the Mars helicopter mission.
The Ingenuity, which was attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, was launched at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on July 30, 2020, according to NASA
. It landed on the Martian surface on Feb. 18 at the Jezero Crater.
The historic flight was only the first in a series of difficult flights that the NASA team has planned, according to CNN
. A second flight was successfully completed on Thursday.