NASA is about to make historical past on the Red Planet with the primary managed, powered flight on one other world.
This Sunday (April 11), NASA’s Mars Helicopter Ingenuity is anticipated to make its first-ever flight on Mars, a historic liftoff for the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) craft. This flight will come 118 years after the Wright Brothers made their first profitable powered flight on Earth and 60 years after the primary human spaceflight, which was made by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin April 12, 1961.
“It feels important,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s affiliate administrator for the science mission directorate, informed Space.com in an interview forward of the flight.
“I’m sure that the Wright brothers that day, if you did an interview there and said, ‘Hey, could you imagine somebody flying on a plane from DC to LA,’ they would have said, ‘You’re kidding me!” Zurbuchen, who had simply flown from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, stated.
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“I feel the same way here, he added. “Technology demonstrations are about, if you would like, opening a door to a completely totally different toolset. And for me, that is what’s so thrilling about this. We haven’t but imagined all of the makes use of of this new know-how that we’re demonstrating.”
He added that “know-how demonstrations are actually vital. You could have seen that within the science mission directorate, we even have made a deliberate give attention to new applied sciences, however into new know-how demonstrations into area, as a result of I simply suppose we can not fake that now we have all of the instruments within the field that we want,” for future exploration.
Ingenuity is considered a “know-how demonstration,” because its planned flights on Mars are designed simply to show that this technology works. While the helicopter does have an onboard camera to take images throughout its mission, that is its only onboard feature not directly related to it flying.
Ingenuity’s first flight comes thanks to an incredible effort from the team behind the helicopter, Zurbuchen said. “I spent lots of time along with the group attempting to determine how we [can] get it there safely,” he said, adding that they had to figure out how to get the craft to Mars without jeopardizing the primary mission of its parent craft — Perseverance rover that landed Feb. 18 — and its sample collection.
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The team also has to figure out how to get the craft to fly autonomously.
“The pace of sunshine is simply too sluggish for us to truly management it [in real-time],” Zurbuchen said. Additionally, the Ingenuity team had to figure out how to have a helicopter fly on Mars in a challenging environment with an extremely thin atmosphere. Mars’ atmosphere is “only one % of the general air density [compared to Earth], it has wind 10 to twenty miles per hour and its in a rocky terrain,” Zurbuchen said.
It is clear that flying a helicopter on another planet is no easy feat and that this is an exciting moment for spaceflight and technological history. But why? What are the possible applications for such a piece of technology?
One major way that scientists hope to use craft like Ingenuity in the future is to explore, as a small helicopter can “go to many locations that we won’t go to with rovers,” Zurbuchen said, elaborating to mention that Mars has some interesting crater walls and other destinations that would be fascinating to study up-close and but that rovers aren’t capable of exploring.
Zurbuchen added that future Mars helicopters could be a vital asset to both robotic exploration and human exploration on the Red Planet.
It could be “a supporting ingredient of each robotic and human exploration,” he said. “form of a scout that flies … you recognize lots of the firefighters that we see usually have robots that go forward and ensure that the trail is obvious.”
However, as he mentioned before, there are also many applications for this technology that haven’t yet been developed or perhaps even considered. “We really need the ingenuity of innovators and scientists coming subsequent and saying, ‘now that that works, (assuming it really works), so what can we do?’ And I feel the most effective concepts are but to come back.”
Email Chelsea Gohd at [email protected] or observe her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.