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Mars Helicopter Nears Maiden Flight

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. Photo: NASA

NASA is making final preparations before flying a tiny helicopter next month on the surface of Mars, which launched to the red planet from Cape Canaveral last summer.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter weighs about 4 pounds and is about as small as a tissue box. It hitched a ride to the red planet on the belly of the Perseverance rover. 

Its mission is to see if a helicopter can fly in the super-thin atmosphere of Mars and help engineers design future planetary aircraft. NASA calls the mission a demonstration of future technology.

“We strive to anticipate what scientists are going to need to do great science in the future, and the technology demonstrations by their very nature do this,” said NASA’s director of planetary science Lori Glaze. “It’s a high risk, high reward approach that allows us to test capabilities we can improve on later could also advance science on future missions.”

NASA said the rover is driving the $80 million helicopter to the testing location, a Martian airfield, ahead of 10 days of testing the vehicle no earlier than April 8. 

“Then will be at a point where we will undertake our first flight, and then we will progressively undertake more aggressive flights, once we understand and analyze all the behavior from that first flight,” said Bobby Braun, director for planetary science at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

Engineers will have about a month to fly it. The team plans to fly it multiple times, up to about 16 feet into the Martian sky. If successful, Ingenuity will be the first powered aircraft to fly on another planet. 

To mark the historic mission, Ingenuity is carrying a postage-stamp sized piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer, the first plane to make a powered flight here on Earth back in 1903. 

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Brendan Byrne

About Brendan Byrne

Space Reporter and 'Are We There Yet?' Host

Brendan covers space news for WMFE, everything from rocket launches to the latest scientific discoveries in our universe. He hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration. Brendan is a native Floridian, born and raised in Broward County. He moved to ... Read Full Bio »