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Mars helicopter ready to take historic flight

Charlotte Edwards, March 24, 2021 6:45PM The Sun

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An illustration of the Ingenuity helicopter that NASA hopes to launch from the Perseverance rover on Mars. Picture: NASA media_cameraAn illustration of the Ingenuity helicopter that NASA hopes to launch from the Perseverance rover on Mars. Picture: NASA

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NASA is almost ready to fly the first-ever Mars helicopter.

The 1.8kg mini spacecraft is called Ingenuity and will make history when it takes flight on the Red Planet.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said a final review of the mini helicopter’s systems had been completed.

They’ve also chosen the flight zone for Ingenuity.

media_cameraThe Ingenuity helicopter has remained attached to the Perseverance rover but is being prepared to take flight. Picture: NASA

It arrived on the planet with the Perseverance rover on February 18 but has so far remained attached to the NASA rover, which is searching the Red Planet for signs of ancient life such as fossilised bacteria and microbes.

“We are definitely very excited,” JPL engineer Timothy Canham said.

“Right now, the helicopter is still attached to the rover. So, we’re keeping it warm and fed.

“We’re charging the batteries. And, we’re also working … to identify a final site for the helicopter.”

Perseverance will need to transport the helicopter to its drop off location and that could take several days, according to the engineers. Then it could take about a week to fully deploy*.

The current plan is to release the helicopter about 60 days after the initial February 18 Mars landing. The Mars Helicopter Delivery System should release the mini helicopter on a flat surface.

Its test flights should begin no earlier than the first week of April. If successful, it will be the first powered flight on another planet.

The helicopter will be used for environmental monitoring and will support the data that Perseverance is already taking.

WHAT’S ON BOARD PERSEVERANCE

media_cameraA diagram of the instruments on NASA’s Perseverance rover that landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. Picture: NASA

Perseverance has a total of 19 cameras and two microphones, and carries seven scientific instruments.

PIXL
An X-ray “ray gun” that will help scientists investigate the composition* of Martian rock.

RIMFAX
A ground-penetrating* radar that will create images of buried rocks, meteorites and even possible underground water sources up to a depth of 10 metres.

MEDA
A bunch of sensors that will take readings of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, and other atmospheric* conditions.

MOXIE
An instrument that will convert Martian carbon dioxide into oxygen. A scaled-up version could be used in future to provide people who live on Mars with breathable air.

SuperCam
A group of instruments for measuring the makeup of rocks and regolith* at a distance.

Mastcam-Z
A camera system capable of taking “3D” images by combining two or more photos into one.

SHERLOC
Sherloc contains an ultraviolet* laser that will investigate Martian rock for organic compounds.

Perseverance mission to Mars

GLOSSARY

  • deploy: bring into action
  • composition: what something is made up of
  • penetrating: going through or into something
  • atmospheric: to do with the gases around the planet
  • regolith: dust, broken rocks and other loose material covering the solid rock of a planet

EXTRA READING

The mystery of Mars’ missing oceans

Make some noise Mars, we’re listening

Mars rover’s parachute carried secret message

NASA rover touches down on Mars

QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the name of the helicopter?
  2. How much does it weigh?
  3. When did the Perseverance rover land on Mars?
  4. What is Perseverance searching for?
  5. How will the helicopter make history?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Journal Entries to Mars
Put yourself in the shoes of the chief navigator of the Perseverance Mars Rover. As the person in charge of the rover, complete three journal entries detailing how you got the rover to Mars and how you plan to go about deploying the Ingenuity helicopter and what you hope it finds. Use information from the article to help you create your journal entries.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Write a brief Scientific report to NASA stating what data the Ingenuity helicopter managed to track and record any interesting findings.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Verb adventures
With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page.

Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Extra Reading in space