A piece of the Wright brothers’ first plane is on Mars.
NASA’s experimental Martian helicopter holds a small fabric swatch from the 1903 Wright Flyer, the space agency revealed Tuesday. The helicopter, named Ingenuity, traveled to the red planet with the Perseverance rover, which arrived last month.
The device will attempt the first controlled and motorized flight on another planet no earlier than April 8. It will mark a “Wright brothers moment,” said Bobby Braun, director of planetary science at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio, the Wright’s hometown, donated the mail-sized piece of muslin from the plane’s lower left wing, at the request of NASA.
The exhibit made the 300 million mile journey to Mars with the blessing of the Wright brothers’ great-granddaughter and great-grandnephew, said park curator Steve Lucht.
“Wilbur and Orville Wright would be delighted to know that a small piece of their 1903 Wright Flyer I, the machine that launched the Space Age for just a quarter of a mile, will make history on Mars!” Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright said in a statement provided by the park.
Orville Wright was aboard the world’s first controlled and powered flight on December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers took turns, making four flights that day.
A piece of wood and cloth from the Wright Flyer flew to the moon with Neil Armstrong from Apollo 11 in 1969. A sample also accompanied John Glenn to orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. Both astronauts were from Ohio.
NASA’s 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter will attempt to soar 10 feet (3 meters) into the extremely thin Martian air in its first jump. Up to five increasingly higher and longer flights are planned over the course of a month.
The material is glued to a wire below the helicopter’s solar panel, which is positioned on top like a graduate’s cap.
For now, the device remains attached to the belly of the rover. A protective shield fell over the weekend, exposing the slim, long-legged helicopter.
The helicopter airfield is right next to the rover’s landing site in Jezero crater. The rover will observe the test flights from a distant position, before drifting away to pursue its own mission: looking for signs of ancient Martian life. The rock samples will be reserved for an eventual return to Earth.
NASA wants to fly a helicopter on Mars for the first time
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