A tiny piece of the Wright brothers' history-making plane will take to the skies on Mars a few weeks from now if all goes according to plan.
NASA's Mars Helicopter Ingenuity, which could lift off on the Red Planet as soon as April 8, bears a tiny swatch of fabric from one wing of Flyer 1, the plane that in December 1903 made the first controlled flights on Earth, agency officials announced Tuesday (March 23).
The Wright brothers ushered in "aerial portability as a dimension for us to have the option to travel here on Earth," Bob Balaram, Ingenuity boss designer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, said during a news conference Tuesday. "Similarly, we are trusting that Ingenuity also allows us to expand and open up aerial versatility on Mars."
The Flyer 1 swatch, which is about the size of a postage stamp, is attached to a small cable beneath Ingenuity's solar panel, Balaram added.
Ingenuity traveled to Mars with NASA's car-sized Perseverance rover, which touched down inside the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on Feb. 18. Perseverance's main jobs are to chase for signs of ancient life inside Jezero, which hosted a major lake and a waterway delta billions of years ago and to gather and cache dozens of samples for future re-visitation of Earth. In any case, the rover's first enormous task is to help get the innovation demonstrating Ingenuity going, and (if possible) to record the 4-lb. (1.8 kilograms) chopper's flights for posterity.
The Ingenuity team aims to make five short flights during a monthlong window, which will open when Perseverance deploys the helicopter from its tummy onto the red earth. That organization will be a long and included process that takes about six Earth days to finish, mission team members said during Tuesday's press conference.
If Ingenuity's flights are successful, aerial exploration could be a common feature of Mars missions in the coming years. Helicopters could scout terrain for rovers and gather data on their own, especially in hard-to-reach places, NASA officials have said. (Ingenuity doesn't carry any scientific instruments, however, it does sport two cameras.)