NASA Helicopter Will Be First to Take Flight on Mars

The NASA Mars Mission launches a new way to explore space.

Apr 16, 2021


NASA Helicopter Will Be First to Take Flight on Mars | The NASA Mars Mission launches a new way to explore space.

“Touchdown confirmed!” On February 18, 2021, a new kind of explorer landed on Mars. Amidst applause from mission control, a rover called Perseverance touched down, according to Science. And, tucked into its belly was a tiny 4-pound helicopter called Ingenuity. And in the next few days, Ingenuity will fly, marking the first flight of its kind in space.  

In February, when NASA’s $2.7 billion rover touched down in Jezero Crater on Mars, it was no easy feat. The rover detached from the Mars 2020 mission, flew through intense heat, then deployed a parachute, all the while navigating a safe landing spot on Mars’ rocky terrain.

After the rover detected a safe place to land in the crater, it deployed its six wheels.  Once it touched the ground, a sky crane helped cut the parachute’s cords, then flew off to crash a safe distance away.

The rover is a mobile science lab, able to cover over 600 feet a day as it collects samples. It has been equipped with cameras, microphones, a robotic arm complete with a coring drill, as well as a lab inside to store samples. And, of course Ingenuity was attached to its belly.

This autonomous drone will lift just 10 feet and stay air bound for 30 seconds. Given that the gravity on Mars is one third of that on earth and the atmosphere is one percent as dense, flight is a challenge.

“It will be truly a Wright Brothers’ moment, but on another planet,” MiMi Aung, the project manager at Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) told Science.

The Wright Brothers’ first flight took place in 1903. This incredulous moment was the start of  aviation history and lasted only 12 seconds long, according to MSN. And so it will be when Ingenuity makes her first flight. 

"The first flight is special. It is by far the most important flight that we plan to do," Håvard Grip, Ingenuity's chief pilot at JPL told MSN. "We will declare complete mission success if we do this first flight that we're going to attempt."

To commemorate first flights, the team attached a piece of muslin that was taken from the wing of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, attaching it to the Perseverance. "This fabric is from the original aircraft that flew at Kitty Hawk," Bob Balaram, engineer for NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter told MSN. "With all our high tech materials and carbon fiber skins and exotic metals, we're very proud to honor that experimental aircraft from long ago by carrying a small piece of [its] fabric."

Now that Perseverance is ready to explore, all eyes are on Ingenuity. The first helicopter test results will be broadcast live on YouTube, Twitter, facebook, Twitch and on NASA Apps. 

Together, these autonomous explorers will gather information for the Mars Exploration Program. According to NASA, scientists back home can now better understand the evolution of Mars, its potential to host life, and hopefully enable humans to one day explore this red planet.

Space lovers around the world are excitedly following this dynamic duo as they take these first exploratory steps across and above Mars. The success of Ingenuity’s first flight may just open a new way of space exploration. Thanks to NASA and the team at JPL, the sky's the limit!  

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Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.