Mars might be over 158 million miles away, but the Red Planet now holds an important piece of aerospace history. In February, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Ingenuity helicopter vehicle delivered a swatch consisting of a small piece of fabric from the Wright brothers’ first plane to Mars.
Ingenuity isn’t just another Mars rover. Rather, it’s a helicopter that’s capable of hovering over the Red Planet’s surface. Coming in at just 4 pounds, though, Ingenuity isn’t particularly heavy. It’s a lightweight helicopter that’s fitted with solar panels, batteries and small sensors. Using the Ingenuity, NASA plans to survey the Red Planet’s landscape while collecting data for research purposes.
Just last month, NASA transported the Ingenuity helicopter to Mars aboard Perseverance. Aside from reaching the Red Planet successfully, one of the most remarkable aspects of the mission is that Ingenuity contains a swatch from the Wright brothers’ first plane.
NASA revealed that the swatch came directly from a wing of the Wright brothers’ first plane. The Wright brothers flew their first plane, the Flyer, in December 1903. While glider-based plans had been around before that time, the Flyer was the first powered plane to successfully take off and land. NASA took a swatch from the Wright brothers’ Flyer plane and secured it to the Ingenuity helicopter, which is now performing its research mission on Mars.
“A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity. An insulative tape was used to wrap the small swatch of fabric around a cable located underneath the helicopter’s solar,” said NASA in a press release announcing the Ingenuity’s launch.
The Wright brothers, of course, were pioneers in the field of aviation. Orville and Wilbur Wright were responsible for building the first powered plane. The wings of this plane were covered in a fabric. After being preserved, NASA collected a sample of this fabric for its Ingenuity helicopter.
It’s important to note Ingenuity’s mission is considered an experiment. NASA doesn’t know whether or not the helicopter will be able to hold up under Mars’s harsh conditions. Even if it fails, though, Ingenuity will leave behind a piece of aerospace history on the Red Planet in the form of a swatch from the Wright brothers’ Flyer plane.