First steps taken for flight Mars heli, ‘success would mean breakthrough’

NASA has many space firsts scored, but flying a helicopter through the air on another planet has never happened before. That should change this week, when Mars helicopter Ingenuity makes its maiden flight. A true piece of art in the super-thin atmosphere of the Red Planet, argues planet scientist Daphne Stam (TU Delft).

To emphasize the historical significance of the flight, the lightweight helicopter has been given a small piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer. The Wright brothers made the first powered flight on Earth in 1903 with that aircraft.

That is appropriate for more than one reason, because the Mars helicopter will not come much higher and longer than that first flight with the Wright Flyer. The first attempt, coming Sunday at the earliest, will take about 20 to 30 seconds, with Ingenuity taking off three meters. For later flights, the device rises five meters.

There are five flights planned this month, which will last up to 90 seconds. After that, Perseverance, the cart that has to stay close by because it is necessary for the communication between heli and earth, used again for other tasks.

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