In this illustration, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet's surface as NASA's Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away.Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Topics: Mars, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration, Spaceflight
"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Ingenuity, a technology experiment, is preparing to attempt the first powered, controlled flight on the Red Planet.
When NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it will be carrying a small but mighty passenger: Ingenuity, the Mars Helicopter.
The helicopter, which weighs about 4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) on Earth and has a fuselage about the size of a tissue box, started out six years ago as an implausible prospect. Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California knew it was theoretically possible to fly in Mars’ thin atmosphere, but no one was sure whether they could build a vehicle powerful enough to fly, communicate, and survive autonomously with the extreme restrictions on its mass.
Then the team had to prove in Earthbound tests that it could fly in a Mars-like environment. Now that they’ve checked off those objectives, the team is preparing to test Ingenuity in the actual environment of Mars.
“Our Mars Helicopter team has been doing things that have never been done before – that no one at the outset could be sure could even be done,” said MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at JPL “We faced many challenges along the way that could have stopped us in our tracks. We are thrilled that we are now so close to demonstrating – on Mars – what Ingenuity can really do.”
Ingenuity survived the intense vibrations of launch on July 30, 2020, and has passed its health checks as it waits to plunge with Perseverance through the Martian atmosphere. But the helicopter won’t attempt its first flight for more than a month after landing: Engineers for the rover and helicopter need time to make sure both robots are ready.