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The Mars Ingenuity helicopter commemorates the Wright Brothers

Written By | Apr 19, 2021
apollo, wright brothers, mars, intrepid

Mars Helicopter Ingenuity during a test flight on Mars. Ingenuity was taken to the Red Planet strapped to the belly of the Perseverance rover (seen in the background). NASA artist’s conception.

WASHINGTON. NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made history today by making the first controlled flight through the thin Martian atmosphere. The 4-foot-wide helicopter blades whirled, lifting the 1.6-foot-high craft 10 feet off the bleak Martian surface before landing safely 40 seconds later. A modest but significant accomplishment for the $80 million craft.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet’s surface as NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. Images is NASA artist’s conception.

And a passenger of sorts rode along with Ingenuity this day. A piece of the historic Wright Flyer’s cloth wing. It traveled with NASA’s Perseverance rover a remarkable 292 million miles from Earth to the Red Planet.

Of the several flights it made on December 17, 1903, the best distance achieved by the Wright Flyer was 852 feet in about 59 seconds.

Like Ingenuity, a modest accomplishment of great significance.

Although Orville and Wilbur Wright’s flying machine traveled a total of 4 miles that day, it logged more distance in years to follow.




In 1969, Neil Armstrong arranged with the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, to take a small piece of the Wright Flyer’s left propeller and a fragment of muslin from the airplane’s upper left-wing (around 8 x 13 inches) on Apollo 11’s historic mission to the moon; a 480,000-mile round trip from the Wright Flyer’s testing grounds at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

apollo, wright brothers, mars, intrepid

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong trains in the lunar module simulator at Kennedy Space Center on June 19, 1969. Photo: NASA.

And a fragment of the airplane also accompanied Ohio Sen. John Glenn on his 1998 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery; traveling 3,600,000 miles in its many orbits around the Earth.

In 1878, when Orville and Wilbur were boys, their father Milton gave the brothers a toy.

It was the invention of French aeronautical enthusiast Alphonse Pénaud. The bamboo and paper toy has a rubber band affixed to its propeller. Turning the propeller until the rubber band is coiled and taut, the blade spins upon release. And with that, the Planophore, helicopter-like, lifts into the air.

A Planophore. PBS screen capture.

The Wright boys would go on to build many copies of the toy, hoping to enlarge the design. But as Orville later recalled, “When we undertook to build the toy on a much larger scale it failed to work so well.”

The brothers had to disregard the “accepted science” of their day and reinvent the fledgling field of aeronautics through innovative thinking and meticulous experimentation.

While Americans celebrate NASA’s latest achievement on Mars, a piece of its predecessor rests in quiet majesty within the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter; a fragment of the Wright Flyer’s masterfully designed wing from the world’s first heavier-than-air, powered aircraft.

Sir Isaac Newton famously said,

“If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

And NASA’s army of brilliant, highly educated scientists and engineers, past and present, stand on the shoulders of brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Bicycle makers from Ohio who never graduated high school.

apollo, wright brothers, mars, intrepid

Orville at the controls of the Wright Flyer in 1903 as brother Wilbur looks on. Photo: National Archives.

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Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area, and now resides in South Florida. A cigar and bourbon aficionado, Steven is a political staff writer for Communities Digital News and an incredibly talented artist.

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Steven M. Lopez

Originally from Los Angeles, Steven M. Lopez has been in the news business for more than thirty years. He made his way around the country: Arizona, the Bay Area and now resides in South Florida.