Why NASA’s Mars Mini-Helicopter ‘Ingenuity’ Gives India A Reason To Celebrate

NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars is getting ready to deploy a mini-helicopter ‘Ingenuity’.  Named by an Indian-origin teen, Ingenuity will be the first rotorcraft to fly “on a world beyond Earth”, says the US space agency.

The four-blade robotic helicopter, which weighs around four pounds, will test a new model of mobility. This will fly and carry out exploration missions on the red planet.

The Ingenuity robotic helicopter had traveled Mars riding on the belly of the Perseverance rover. The rover dropped the debris shield that protected the helicopter during its February 18 touchdown on the floor of Jezero Crater.

The Ingenuity robotic helicopter (Image: NASA)

On March 21, NASA tweeted, “Away goes the debris shield, and here’s our first look at the helicopter. It’s stowed sideways, folded up, and locked in place, so there’s some reverse origami to do before I can set it down. First, though, I’ll be off to the designated ‘helipad,’ a couple days’ drive from here.”

Following the dropping of the debris shield, the Perseverance rover will now spend the next few days following the flight zone of the Ingenuity helicopter on the red planet.

The India Connection

The name Ingenuity was coined by 18-year-old Indian-origin girl Vaneeza Rupani. Rupani, a high school junior from Northport, Alabama, had earned the honor of naming the helicopter after she submitted her essay into NASA’s ‘Name the Rover’ contest.

The space agency had tweeted last year, “Our Mars helicopter has a new name! Meet: Ingenuity. Student Vaneeza Rupani came up with the name during our name the rover contest. Ingenuity will ride to the Red Planet with @NASAPersevere to attempt the first powered flight on another world.”

Before that, ‘Perseverance’ was named by a middle-school child Alexander Mather, who also won NASA’s ‘Name the Rover’ essay contest.

According to reports, NASA expects the first flight of the Ingenuity to come “no earlier than the first week of April”.

After the finalization of the flights of Ingenuity, the Perseverance will start focusing on its main tasks, which include hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting samples.

According to the mission members, the 45 kilometer-wide Jezero crater is a great place to do such work. Observations by Mars orbiters show that billions of years ago, the crater hosted a big, deep lake and a river delta.

“No rotorcraft has ever flown on a world beyond Earth. NASA hopes Ingenuity changes that, and in a big way: successful sorties by the bantam helicopter could open Mars to extensive aerial exploration in the future,” said NASA officials.

It is the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars. Each of these rovers has carried cameras or other instruments to study the Martian surface.

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