Why we’re thankful for the little Ingenuity helicopter on Mars – .

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Why we’re thankful for the little Ingenuity helicopter on Mars – .



Millions of miles away, we have viewed the Red Planet as a distraction from our woes as we live in the second year of a pandemic. Meanwhile, two robots are realizing what was once thought to be impossible on Mars.

It’s easy to project our hopes onto them, to imagine them as two robot buddies playing a cop buddy scenario. Their discoveries amaze us. Their successes deserve to be celebrated. And they return beautiful postcards of a rust-colored world.

Ingenuity was built and is powered by the same human trait from which it takes its name. Thousands of dedicated, hardworking and creative people have worked for years to make this a reality. When I ask scientists if they have ever imagined a helicopter flying on Mars, most of them say no – but they are happy and in awe that it actively exists and flies in the Martian atmosphere.

The trip was not easy for the helicopter. Imagine building an experiment, a technology to be demonstrated on another planet, and not encountering any problems. Time and time again, the helicopter and its team overcame these issues to keep exploring.

Perseverance, which is roughly the size of an SUV, was designed to survive for at least two years on Mars; Ingenuity was not. The 4-pound (1.8 kilogram) helicopter was designed for five experimental test flights in April.
To date, Ingenuity has achieved an impressive 15 thefts and has yet to give up Perseverance. Together they explore Mars in an unprecedented way that could reveal if life ever existed on the Red Planet. Ingenuity has been the perfect travel companion, exploring and leading the way. And Perseverance doesn’t have to make the trip alone.

Survive Mars

As humans, we’re intrigued by the flight and exploration of Mars, so it’s no surprise that something bringing the two together has captivated people around the world.

After Perseverance survived the infamous “seven minutes of terror” landing on Mars in February, we waited to find out whether Ingenuity also survived the seven-month trip to space.

I have had the privilege of reporting on the rover on CNN for years; Perseverance landing week on Mars was like my Super Bowl or my Oscars. At the end of the evening of February 20, I waited, still overwhelmed with fear of Perseverance’s success, to see if Ingenuity would send us a message.

The little helicopter called home from its safe place tucked into the rover’s belly to say everything was fine. It was another big sigh of relief that week, but Ingenuity’s arduous path was only just beginning.

Then it had to unfold like a butterfly from its chrysalis and detach itself from the rover and its trusty power supply. Perseverance could no longer protect Ingenuity from freezing nights on Mars. The helicopter should do this on its own.

Another sigh of relief came the first time Ingenuity charged using its solar panel and weathered the frigid nights of Mars, which can drop to as low as 130 degrees Fahrenheit (-90 degrees Celsius).

Perseverance and resourcefulness took a selfie together, sitting on the surface of Jezero Crater, as if to say “hey, okay, I’m just hanging out at the site of an ancient Martian lake.” The image always makes me smile; it’s one of my favorites from this year.

Then it was time for Ingenuity to fly. And it didn’t come easily either. But the moments that make history never do.

A successful first flight

The groundbreaking first flight was originally scheduled for April 11, but plans changed after a command sequence issue was discovered when the helicopter went through a preflight system with its software.

On April 19, Ingenuity successfully completed the first powered and controlled flight to another planet and landed safely on the surface. Pictures and videos taken by the rover, as well as aerial photos from the helicopter’s camera, showed Ingenuity in motion.

Ingenuity took this photo while hovering over the Martian surface on April 19.

My favorite is Ingenuity’s perspective on herself, watching her own shadow boldly traverse the Martian landscape.

The helicopter team celebrated in their control room on Earth, jumping from their chairs.

“We can now say that humans flew a rotorcraft to another planet,” MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadenea, California, said that day. “We’ve been talking about our Wright brothers’ time on another planet for so long. And now here it is. “

The Ingenuity team celebrates the first flight.  MiMi Aung can be seen standing in the center.

It is normal that the mission also carries a piece of history. A postage stamp-sized piece of muslin that covered one of the wings of the Wright Brothers’ Flyer 1 is attached to a cable under the helicopter’s solar panel.

This first powered and controlled flight on Earth took place aboard the Flyer near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when Orville and Wilbur Wright flew at 120 feet (36.6 meters) for 12 seconds in December 1903. The history was written when the Wright brothers made four separate flights. on December 17, 1903, and each was a little longer than the last.

Ingenuity was only supposed to fly in April. But just like the Wright brothers, he did not give up.

Since then, Ingenuity has returned color images, gone from a tech demo to being an active scout for the rover, survived a frightening flight anomaly, hovered over changing atmospheric conditions on Mars, and conquered record-breaking flights that are further, faster and more difficult than the last one.

From dream to reality

Think about the things in your life that weigh 4 pounds. Maybe it is a pet or a family heirloom.

Then imagine that you are holding Ingenuity in your hands. Imagine that you devoted years of your life to this object, built it and watched it come to life, only to then see it crash during testing.

But then it became real, on a mission to Mars. And it worked, and it still works.

Let’s be grateful to people like MiMi Aung and Chief Ingenuity Engineer Bob Balaram and the rest of the Ingenuity team at NASA for doing their best to make what was once a settled idea. on a shelf a reality.

Ingenuity may only weigh 4 pounds, but it has managed to carry all of our hopes. It has allowed us to dream of capable successors for even more, and Ingenuity’s continued accomplishments bring the same joy as the landing of Perseverance.

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