A small helicopter upsets the exploration of Mars and forces NASA to change its plans.
Frankfurt – Mars * is a tough place for space travel *, but the US space agency Nasa * is on its way. All landings in recent years have been successful and the rovers hold out much longer than planned. The best example is the Mars rover “Opportunity” *, which was supposed to be researching on the red planet for a good three months – and then lasted for more than 14 years. The NASA rover “Curiosity” has also been active on the red planet for almost ten years, while the latest rover model “Perseverance” only landed in February 2021 * and has yet to prove that it can hold out too.
However, the rovers are currently less of a surprise on Mars – even if “Perseverance” has just successfully drilled the first hole in Mars rock * and “Curiosity” has just discovered a “strange structure” on Mars. The real surprise is the “Ingenuity” helicopter, which landed on the red planet together with “Perseverance”. NASA’s plan was for the small helicopter to demonstrate five times on the red planet that it could fly. Then his mission should end. But after meanwhile 13 flights over the surface of Mars, there is still no time for retirement, one finds at NASA now and has extended the mission of the small helicopter without an end date.
Exploring Mars: “Ingenuity” helicopter surprises NASA
“Everything works so well,” explains Josh Ravich from the NASA team that looks after the helicopter to the news agency afp. “The helicopter is doing better on the surface than we expected.” And the small aircraft is also coping with the winds on Mars better than expected. “With the third flight we had all achieved our mission goals and had collected all the information we wanted to get,” continues Ravich.
The fact that “Ingenuity” can even fly on Mars was a little surprise for space research *. The atmosphere on Mars is very thin, it is only about one percent the density of the earth’s atmosphere. Although this was taken into account during the development of the “Ingenuity” helicopter, even NASA employee Ravich had concerns at the beginning: “When I had the chance to work on the project, I had the same reaction as everyone else: Is that even possible? ”he says.
Nasa has specially adapted Mars helicopters for the red planet
In response to the conditions on Mars, the helicopter is very light (1.8 kilograms) and has particularly long rotor blades for its weight. Another challenge that “Ginny”, the helicopter’s nickname, has mastered so far with flying colors: survival. The nights on Mars are freezing, the temperature can drop to minus 80 degrees Celsius and make life difficult for the helicopter.
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“Ingenuity” is now used as a scout for its great companion, the rover “Perseverance”. With its high-resolution color camera, the helicopter explores on the one hand whether the routes are safe for the rover and on the other hand provides NASA employees on earth with information that they can use to decide whether “Perseverance” should head for a certain region at all.
So far, the Mars helicopter has held out well, but how long will it stay that way? The approaching Mars winter in particular could be a challenge. On Earth, meanwhile, NASA is already thinking about future aircraft for Mars. Successors to “Ingenuity” could be larger and then also be able to transport freight. That would make exploring Mars a little easier. (tab) * fr.de is an offer from IPPEN.MEDIA.