NASA sends a helicopter to Mars

Enlarge ImageA Mars Helicopter prototype undergoes some testing on Earth.                  Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser  CNET

The views from a helicopter flying across Mars will also provide Nasa with a stellar public relations tool as it seeks global support for sending humans to the planet in the 2030s or later.

The helicopter is the result of four years of testing and redesigning a standard helicopter to shrink it down to an object that weighs a little less than four pounds.

"The idea of a helicopter flying the skies of another planet is thrilling", he added. Yet if the Mars Helicopter does certainly fly, it'll have the ability to catch an unusual bird's- eye-view of Mars with its 2 electronic cameras, something that's never ever been done prior to.

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

The remote-controlled Mars Helicopter, created to take flight in the thin Martian atmosphere with twin counter-rotating blades, weighs about four pounds (1.8 kilograms), with a fuselage the size of a softball, NASA said.

The helicopter is meant to show the viability and usefulness of aircraft on Mars, NASA explained, together with potential roles because of low-flying scout or to attain areas inaccessible out of the floor. Once on Mars, the rover will deploy it on a suitable surface and drive away where it will have to unpack itself and attempt a flight.

"NASA has a proud history of firsts", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.

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"After the Wright Brothers demonstrated 117 years ago that a controlled flight here on Earth was possible, another group of American pioneers can prove that the same can happen in another world", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Deputy Director of the Science Division of NASA.

It will also have solar cells to charge its lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism to keep it warm through the cold Martian nights. Mars is about 20 light minutes away from Earth.

Instruments aboard the Mars rover will collect rock and soil samples and encase them in sealed tubes to be left on the surface for potential return to Earth.

Once the copter is ready to go, a 30-day test flight campaign will commence, beginning with a simple hover in place and leading to more extensive reconnaissance missions lasting as long as 90 seconds.

If the helicopter does not work, the Mars project will not fail.

These images released by NASA show the surface of Mars.

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