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Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Holds Piece of Wright Brothers History

Secured under Ingenuity’s solar panels is a stamp-sized swatch of fabric from the Wright Flyer

The Ingenuity helicopter is scheduled to attempt flight this week no later than April 8 after the Mars rover completes its first mission of transporting the small chopper to a flat "airfield" free of obstructions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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When Wilbur and Orville Wright launched their plane, Flyer I, on December 17, 1903, they showed that powered, controlled flight on Earth was possible. Their airplane flew 120 feet for 20 seconds, and in the following four test flights, each one lasted longer than the last, reports Ashley Strickland for CNN. Now, a piece of the first airplane will accompany the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on another historic journey when it attempts the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, reports Marcia Dunn for the Associated Press.

To construct Flyer I, the Wright brothers used unbleached muslin fabric, reports Nicoletta Lanese for Live Science. Situated underneath Ingenuity's solar panels is a small, postage-stamp-sized piece of muslin from Flyer I, donated by the Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio, at NASA's request, reports the AP.

"Wilbur and Orville Wright would be pleased to know that a little piece of their 1903 Wright Flyer I, the machine that launched the Space Age by barely one-quarter of a mile, is going to soar into history again on Mars," says Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright, the Wright brother's great-grandniece and great-grandnephew, in a Carillon Historical Park statement. During the Apollo Missions, Apollo 11 also carried a piece of the muslin, and a splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer, reports Live Science. To avoid adding extra weight to the spacecraft, Ingenuity only holds that small patch of fabric to streamline its flight efficiency on the Red Planet.

Flight on Mars is significantly more challenging than flight on Earth, NASA explains in a statement. The Red Planet's atmosphere is one percent as dense as Earth's surface atmosphere, and Mars receives only half the amount of solar energy Earth receives during the day. At night, temperatures are frigid and can drop as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit, posing a threat to electrical components that can crack and freeze at those temperatures.

The ingenuity helicopter is scheduled to attempt flight on Mars no later than April 8. First, the Mars rover Perseverance must transport the small chopper to an "airfield" flat and free of obstructions, reports Live Science. Once Ingenuity reaches the designated spot for flight tests, the process of releasing Ingenuity from the Mars rover's belly will begin. The task will take six sols, or Martian days, equivalent to six days and four hours on Earth. Once completed, Ingenuity will have to rely on its solar panels to charge itself and its internal heaters to keep from freezing, reports CNN.

"Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft. And while getting deployed to the surface will be a big challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting it and keeping it powered, will be an even bigger one," says Bob Balaram, Mars Helicopter chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a statement.

The Mars helicopter will have 31 days to conduct five short test flights. If Ingenuity is successful, it can open new opportunities for aerial exploration and aid rovers in gathering data in places that are hard to reach, reports Mike Wall for Space.com.

About Elizabeth Gamillo
Elizabeth Gamillo

Elizabeth Gamillo is a science journalist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern.

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