back to article NASA to send Perseverance, a new trundle bot, and Ingenuity, the first interplanetary helicopter, to sniff out life on Mars in July

NASA is gearing up to launch its Perseverance rover and Ingenuity drone helicopter to hunt for signs of microbial life on Mars next month. The Mars 2020 mission is the first step towards the space agency’s goal of obtaining samples of rock and soil and preparing them for return back to Earth. "Fifty-one years ago today, NASA …

  1. Dr. G. Freeman

    Can I go with it to Mars ?

  2. Glen 1

    10 years? With that time-frame, wouldn't it make sense to have the collection be part of a manned mission?

    If we're going anyway, it'd make sense to not double up on the trips.

    *If* we're going, that is.

    1. RM Myers Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      I would hope that we would at least have unmanned missions that go to Mars and return to earth before we try sending any people. Unless the first manned mission is intended to be a one way trip.

      The black helicopter icon seemed appropriate given the video.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      If we're sending humans then you probably don't want them anywhere near samples which you're worried about possibly being biologically contaminated.

  3. batfink Silver badge

    "When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time"

    For about seven minutes...

    1. Saruman the White Silver badge

      Re: "When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time"

      ... before the area is covered with a green mist ...

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: "When we see the landscape at Jezero Crater for the first time"

        ...or a red weed.

  4. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Interplanetary Hellicopter

    Some achievement that!

    1. M E H
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

      The rotors will have to be larger to compensate for the thinner atmosphere but not proportionally larger because of the reduced gravity on Mars.

      We know they keep a duplicate rover on Earth so they can test it. I don't know how they can replicate the conditions to test a Mars helicopter. Perhaps they will run it in a semi-vacuum while suspended on a counterweight to simulate the reduced gravity?

      As all scientific and engineering knowledge on the planet is contained in the heads of the El Reg commentards perhaps someone could enlighten me.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

        If I recall correctly, Mars has an atmosphere a couple of orders of magnitude thinner than earth's and martian gravity is something like 4/5ths of earth's. The difference in gravity is a lot less than the difference in air density, so you need to push a much larger volume rate of martian air down to attain lift than you would on earth, so you either need a big rotor (unwieldy and difficult to make strong) or you need to spin a smaller one very, very fast, which is almost certainly easier to do. The rotor would need a cross section designed with that in mind. (i.e the aerofoil section needs to be different for different air densities and volume flow rates)

        1. red floyd

          Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

          Mars gravity is approximately 1/3 g

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

            Oops, I should have typed 2/5ths... It's slightly closer to that than 1/3rd...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

          "so you need to push a much larger volume rate of martian air down to attain lift"

          Could we send Trump? He's got lots of hot air...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

        My guess would be something like that: there are big vacuum (near-vacuum) chambers I think.

      3. dvhamme

        Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

        Gravity at this scale is very well understood. Perhaps it is sufficient to test the rotors and the lift they produce at various speeds in a partial vacuum representative of Martian atmosphere density. They can then simulate the lower gravity by testing the rotors and motors on a mock-up copter that is 2/5th the weight of the real thing which works out to the same lift requirement, but using good old Earth gravity. No surprises left in this type of physics.

      4. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Interplanetary Hellicopter

        I don't know how they can replicate the conditions to test a Mars helicopter.

        As you guessed, they tested in a vacuum chamber (although not in a complete vacuum), and effectively suspended the 'copter from a string to simmulate the reduced weight. More info

  5. red floyd

    World's largest supersonic-rated parachute

    Which world? Earth or Mars?

    Perhaps you should have said "Worlds' largest...."

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: World's largest supersonic-rated parachute

      I think it's currently Earth's largest, then for about seven months* it will be space's largest, then it will become Mars's largest.

      *Earth months

      1. FBee

        Well, at least the solar system's largest...

        Space is a Big Place!

  6. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    Can't see the wood for the trees?

    I guess if nothing else, Ingenuity should be great for finding the first tree to be discovered beyond the Earth by the usual drone search technique of crashing into it...

  7. Marty McFly Silver badge

    Bender was here

    For all of humanity's research and knowledge, all we can decisively conclude is Mars is a planet entirely populated by robots. Furthermore, as the robots cease to function there is compelling evidence the robot population is being replenished from a neighboring planet.

  8. lglethal Silver badge

    Perseverance, really?

    Ingenuity is a pretty good name for the helicopter. Spirit is a brilliant name for a rover. Opportunity. Yep great. Even Curiosity is pretty damn good. But Perseverance?

    Inspirational it is not.

    1. 's water music

      Re: Perseverance, really?

      I'd have gone for Gary, after my pet axolotl

  9. Charlie van Becelaere

    Avoiding Contamination

    "Scientists are going to be looking for trace chemicals from billions of years ago, and must be careful not to contaminate the vehicle with any material from Earth."

    So they're importing materials for its construction from other planets?

  10. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    314,000,000 whats?

    Shirly that should be 508,000,000 odd KM or 7896071881.7747 Devon fatbergs?

    Beer for two interplanetary stories in one day. I hope I live long enough to see both come to fruition.

  11. Pen-y-gors Silver badge


    Have we any details of the plans for returning the samples to Earth?

    Presumably this involves some sort of rocket from surface to orbit, where it meets up with an orbiter with enough fuel to break out of orbit and head home.

    Mars has lower gravity, so less oomph needed than for earthly rockets, but that's still a lot of mass to shift off Earth, to Mars, land/orbit, and then lift off. Is SpaceX working on Falcon9M?

    1. Boothy Silver badge

      Re: Lift-off?

      Current plan seems to be...

      Perseverance takes samples, puts these in a sealed tube, and drops them on the ground, moving off to the next sample area (around 20 to 30 samples in total).

      Another mission in a few years sends an orbiter, which includes an Earth return entry vehicle.

      A 3rd mission has a collection rover and an ascent vehicle. The rover drives around and picks all the samples, loads them into the ascent vehicle, which then docks with the orbiter, which transfers the samples to the Earth return vehicle, and sends them on their way.

      Everything past Perseverance still seems to be in concept and/or design, nothing actually being built yet. So may not happen at all, or may get changed around.

  12. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance

    Highly unlikely. Very few of the teams on Earth are remembered other than by people in the industry and very interested spectators such as some of those reading here. I bet few people, even here, can name more than a one or two of the Apollo mission team. Most of the public won't have a clue and will probably have difficulty remembering Buzz Aldrin let alone Michael Collins. That's assuming they even believe the Moon landing even happened!

    Unsung heroes all, but they are called unsung for a reason.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance

      Challenge accepted. Off the top of my head:

      Crew - Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins.

      Flight directors - Gene Krantz, Chris Kraft

      CapCom's - Charlie Duke, Jim Lovell, Ken Mattingly, Bruce McCandless, Bill Anders, Harrison Schmidt

      Geologist Adviser - Gene Shoemaker (as in the comet).

      There were certainly more of each of the directors and CapComs (4 or 5 shifts overall, with one or two for each). But those are the ones that spring to mind.

      Admittedly I can only remember the CapComs as they're all Astronaut heroes in their own right, and Chris Kraft as he died not so long ago (and got a decent amount of his due credit during the recent anniversary) and was almost as much of a dude as Gene Krantz is.

    2. JCitizen

      Re: future generations may well recognize the women and men of Perseverance

      Off the top of my head - Gus Grissom, Chaffe, and White - may they rest in peace!

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