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NASA Aeronautics on Mars (and Earth)

This image is an illustration of NASA's Ingenuity Helicopter flying on Mars.
An illustration of NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter flying on Mars. Ingenuity, a technology demonstration experiment, was the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet. Ingenuity arrived at Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, attached to the belly of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover.

Editor’s note as of Feb. 2, 2024: NASA has announced the Ingenuity mission is ending due to damage the helicopter’s blades experienced during its recent, and ultimately final, flight in January. This page summarizes NASA Aeronautics’ involvement with Ingenuity and helicopters in general. as well as links to related STEM activities.

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’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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.



Last Updated
Mar 08, 2024
Lillian Gipson