NASA has plans for Mars, and they are getting more and more ambitious.  The InSight spacecraft is already on its way to the Red Planet.  It will explore Mars in a deeper way than ever before…. literally.  And, now NASA has plans to send a helicopter to our celestial neighbor on its Mars 2020 Rover mission ” to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.”

You might be like me and say “Um, hey.  Isn’t the atmosphere on Mars ultra-thin, and doesn’t that disqualify us from flying aircraft there that require things like atmosphere for lift and other things that I’m probably not smart enough to think of right now?”  Well, according to, yes and no.  

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Mars does have a very thin atmosphere; only one percent of Earth’s.  But, there are a lot of smart people at NASA’s JPL that have not let that stop them.  After four years of development, a team at JPL have come up with a helicopter that is small and light and super strong.  It “weighs in at little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms). Its fuselage is about the size of a softball, and its twin, counter-rotating blades will bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at almost 3,000 rpm – about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth.”  Take that, Mars.

Once on the planet’s surface, the helicopter will be deployed on the ground.  The Rover will run away to a safe distance and start giving it commands.  After several tests, the controllers on Earth will tell the helicopter to take its first autonomous flight on Mars.  And, the rest will be history. 

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If the helicopter is successful, it will be a huge breakthrough in further exploration of Mars and, potentially, other planets.  As Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate put it, “The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers.”

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral, FL in July 2020 and is scheduled to land on Mars in February, 2021. 


Jenny Flack
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