ST. LOUIS – The first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars has been delayed while NASA works on an issue with its flight control software. It is the latest in a series of exciting Mars missions.
NASA has successfully landed five rovers on Mars over the last two decades, each with a more sophisticated mission.
“Be it from science fiction, from all the books and movies that are out there, lots of people dream about going to Mars,” said Will Snyder, the manager of the Saint Louis Science Center’s McDonnell Planetarium. “Until that can be a reality, these rovers, these orbiters, these are the ways we’re going to be able to learn about it.”
NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover is searching for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover has a drill to collect samples of rock and soil and it will store them in sealed tubes for pickup by a future mission.
“It’s not just this robotic explorer that’s going to do some work and then be done,” Snyder said. “It’s the first stage of a longer mission, packaging up rock and core samples from Mars that will in the future be able to be transported back to Earth, allowing us to do much more research than we can with the limited equipment we’re able to send there.”
Hitching a ride to Mars with Perseverance, the Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, will test powered flight on another world for the first time.
“Being able to fly we can cover more ground on Mars then we could with a rover. And it will really lay the groundwork for future missions, even going places like Titan, a moon around Saturn.”
But flying a drone on Mars sounds easier than it is.
“Compared to our planet, Mars’ atmosphere is only about 1% as thick as ours. Without that blanket of air, it’s very difficult to achieve lift,” Snyder said.
The Perseverance rover will also be testing technology for extracting oxygen from the Martian atmosphere, which is 96% carbon dioxide. The ultimate goal is to use Mars’ natural resources to support human explorers.
If you want to learn more about Mars, you don’t have to head to outer space. The Mission Mars exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center has two galleries full of information and an actual piece of mars itself. To visit, make reservations at slsc.org.