NASA has traced the lineage of its innovationsall the way back to the historic first flight that Orville and Wilbur Wright took to Kitty Hawk in 1903. A small piece of cloth from the famous Wright plane is now in residence on the Red Planet, tucked under Ingenuity’s solar panel.
Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram revealed the surprise package, which he described as the size of a postage stamp. The unbleached muslin material, which comes from a wing covering, links the first powered, controlled flight on Earth to what NASA hopes will be the first powered and controlled flight on another planet.
Ingenuity could take off as early as April 8, but it must first be delivered to its Martian airfield by the Perseverance rover. It will also go through a series of checks before attempting to take off and hover approximately 3 meters above the surface of the planet.
The Perseverance rover is a few days from the helicopter landing point, a relatively flat and open area in the Jezero crater. Onceand landed on the ground, the rover will pull away cautiously to ensure that the rotorcraft’s solar panel can operate to power its batteries and keep it warm during the cold night.
The rotorcraft mission is scheduled to last 31 land days, but the first night can be the most critical. “While deploying to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it energized, will be even greater,” Balaram said.
The rover will set up at an observation site in an attempt to capture images and videos of Ingenuity’s short maiden flight.
If the initial hover exercise goes well, NASA will try longer and higher flights. The entire flight zone covers an area around 90 meters long, giving Ingenuity enough room to stretch its blades if necessary.
The 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter is a technological demonstration, an experiment that could show if this type of flight is even possible in the harsh conditions of Mars. The planet’s weak atmosphere and high winds make it a difficult place for Ingenuity. If it works, it could open doors to new forms of exploration on other worlds.
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