NASA Hopes to Put a Small, Autonomous Helicopter on Mars in 2021

The four-pound helicopter will fly for 30 days to test viability for future missions.

The Mars helicopter (NASA / JPL-CALTECH)

Over the past few decades, missions to Mars have evolved, from flybys to orbiting probes to rovers. Now, NASA hopes to use a new kind of device to investigate the Red Planet: small helicopters.

The agency announced recently that it would include a small, autonomous helicopter on its next mission to Mars, which will involve launching a rover in July 2020 to study the surface for signs of ancient life, reports The Atlantic. 

The helicopter will be about the size of a softball and will weigh four pounds, including two cameras. It will receive commands from Earth but will then fly on its own. It will be a part of a 30-day demonstration, and if all goes well, it might be a game changer in future exploration not only of Mars, but other planets and moons in the solar system, writes The Atlantic.

The helicopter would provide NASA scientists with much more speed and mobility than its current land-based rovers. It would also provide scientists with a different perspective of the surface.

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