Percy and Ingenuity Do Mars

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Artist's concept of Ingenuity helicopter flying on Mars. (NASA)

The Wright Moment: Ingenuity Prepares for Flight

by Michael Persaud/Smithsonianmag.com

Now that the Mars 2020 mission has successfully begun its exploration of the Red Planet and the Perseverance rover has settled into its new home, NASA aims to take things to new heights—literally. Percy, a nickname for the rover that has since stuck, did not make the interplanetary journey alone, as she carried with her a tiny companion with a game-changing dream: a four pound autonomous helicopter that goes by the name Ingenuity, or Ginny (another nickname, of course).

Ginny arrived on the Red Planet fastened at the bottom of Perseverance on February 18, 2021, and recently tested her legs after detaching from the rover, touching the surface of Mars for the first time. Yet sticking to the surface is not the primary focus of the tiny flyer, as she has ambitions of taking flight—the first attempt of powered, controlled flight on another planet, to be specific. Although here on Earth flights are backed by the assurance of over a century of flying experience, Ginny’s task is, well, out-of-this-world. While Mars has lower gravity at about one-third that of Earth, its atmosphere is only one percent as dense, which makes the helicopter’s task of getting off the ground much more difficult than it would be here on our home turf.

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