By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – NASA engineers plan to send a miniature helicopter whirring just above the surface of Mars next month in an interplanetary aviation experiment that, if successful, would mark the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another celestial body.
The U.S. space agency is comparing the Martian debut of its 4-lb (1.8-kg) solar-powered whirlybird, dubbed Ingenuity, with the Wright Brothers’ first sustained flight of a motor-driven airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
Paying homage to that feat, a tiny swath of wing fabric from the original Wright Brothers plane has been fastened underneath the helicopter’s solar panel and will go aloft with Ingenuity when it takes flight roughly 150 million miles from Earth.
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)