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NASA Aeronautics on Mars (and Earth)

Ingenuity photo
Ingenuity Helicopter Lifts Off with Support from Ames Aeronautics

Editor’s note: Congratulations to the Ingenuity team for being honored with the prestigious Collier Trophy. Details here.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has completed its three technology demonstration flights. For the first flight on April 19, 2021, Ingenuity took off, climbed to about 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground, hovered in the air briefly, completed a turn, and then landed. It was a major milestone: the very first powered, controlled flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars – a Wright Brothers moment. After that, the helicopter successfully performed additional experimental flights of incrementally farther distance and greater altitude.

With its tech demo complete, Ingenuity has transitioned to a new operations demonstration phase to explore how future rovers and aerial explorers can work together. More information about Ingenuity on Mars, including the latest status reports and imagery, is available here.

A small team of NASA’s aeronautical innovators contributed their expertise to help the Ingenuity team achieve mission success. Links to content related to Aeronautics’ involvement with Ingenuity and helicopters in general are listed on this page, as well as links to related STEM activities at the bottom of the page.

NASA’s Aeronautics Experts Help Prepare Ingenuity to Fly on Mars
A team of NASA helicopter experts from the Ames Research Center in California assisted the Ingenuity team in making sure the technology demonstrator had the best chance for success in flying in the super thin atmosphere of the Red Planet. Read about their work here.

A one-hour seminar about the specific technical work done for Ingenuity by the NASA Aeronautics team at NASA’s Ames Research Center and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Credits: NASA

NASA is With You When You Fly, Even on Mars
According to the 1958 law that established NASA, where the first “A” in NASA stands for aeronautics, the agency is charged with solving the problems of flight within the atmosphere. But the law doesn’t say which planet’s atmosphere. Here is an introduction from 2019 about NASA Aeronautics’ work on the Mars Helicopter.

Four Ways NASA in Silicon Valley is Helping NASA’s Next Mars Mission
Groundbreaking technologies aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 mission have roots right here in Silicon Valley. Read on to learn more!

Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology Project
NASA’s work on helicopter technology dates back to its predecessor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Catch up with what’s going on with the rotor dynamics researchers here.

The Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration that will travel to the Red Planet with the Mars 2020 rover. It will attempt controlled flight in Mars’ thin atmosphere, which may enable more ambitious missions in the future. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Back on Earth: Advanced Air Mobility Mission
It will be a long, long time before any resident on Mars can order the latest book online and have it delivered to their front door by one of hundreds of drones darting about the sky on any given day. But for us Earthlings that future is much closer than you think. NASA Aeronautics is leading the way to make what’s called Advanced Air Mobility a reality. Read about our mission here.

Mars 2020 STEM Toolkit
Here is a collection of online STEM-related products about the Mars 2020 mission with Perseverance and Ingenuity. It includes hands-on activities, interactive multimedia, lesson plans and activities, play and learn, posters, read about it, and videos. There’s something here for educators, parents, and students from Kindergarten through High School.

STEM Aeronautics Activities Related to Ingenuity

Most of these activities are available from the Mars 2020 STEM Toolkit listed above, but here are links to some of those that are directly related to aeronautics.

Despite the difference in planets involved, Ingenuity’s planned, and the Wright Brothers’ historic, first powered, controlled flights have a lot of similarities. These include the process of invention and testing, as well as embodying the spirit of innovation and exploration. In addition to the Mars 2020 STEM Toolkit activities listed above, the following resources can be used to further explore the processes and science associated with flight, especially vertical flight as Ingenuity on Mars and helicopters on Earth are designed to do.

Wright Brothers resources

Aeronautics for Pre-K, which includes a section on helicopters

Mars Perseverance Parachute Coding Activity

NASA Contributions to Aviation: Rotorcraft (English)

NASA Contributions to Aviation: Rotorcraft (Spanish)

NASA Contributions to Aviation: Tilt Rotor (English)

NASA Contributions to Aviation: Tilt Rotor (Spanish)

Aeronautics @ Home Ingenuity activities:

Build Your Own Mars Helicopter

Out for a Spin

Four Forces of Flight

Drone Maze

Ingenuity Coloring Page

Advanced Air Mobility STEM Module

Did you know that NASA’s aeronautical innovators had a hand in the creation of the first flying vehicle on Mars? They performed detailed work in areas such as performance predictions, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis, control law validation, and experimental analysis. Watch this video to learn more. Credits: NASA
Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California work with Ingenuity.
Scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California work with Ingenuity during its development, a years-long process that was aided by some of the agency’s experts in rotor dynamics.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Watch the video from which this image was captured.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will make history’s first attempt at powered flight on another planet next spring. It is riding with the agency’s next mission to Mars (the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover) as it launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station later this summer. Perseverance, with Ingenuity attached to its belly, will land on Mars February 18, 2021.



Last Updated
Oct 05, 2023
Lillian Gipson