A Helicopter Ride Over Mars? NASA’s About to Give It a Shot

NASA plans to launch ‘Perseverance’, a Mars Rover-the fourth of it’s kind-on a six-month-long journey to the Red Planet.

The mission of Perseverance is to collect soil samples from Mars’ terrain that is believed to have traces of ancient life. This will be followed by another mission undertaken later this decade to bring the samples back to Earth.

The rover will also be carrying a heavier payload: a tiny helicopter named Ingenuity.

During the Spring of next year, Ingenuity will become airborne and start taking aerial snapshots to guide the rover and collect soil samples to return them to a stationary lander for further component analysis.

Although Ingenuity looks like a small robotic insect, it is designed to withstand the extreme Martian environment.

“I see it as kind of a Wright brothers moment on another planet,” says Bob Balaram, the chief engineer for the project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward mission that could enable us to go to lots of places we haven’t been able to go before.”

Balaram thought of a plan for Martian chopper back in the 1990s. His idea was probably inspired by Ilan Kroo’s presentation. Kroo is an engineer at Stanford University and has been working on a tiny atmospheric drone.