It’s nothing but helicopter talk these days! And what exciting days are these. There are so many opportunities to engage kids of all ages with books and activities tied to the small helicopter now sitting on the surface of Mars, named Ingenuity. Perhaps it is because of the helicopters small size at just four pounds, and roughly the size of a large dog, but children are drawn to images of this unique looking vehicle. April 14, 2021 was the last announced scheduled flight attempt (as of writing), but the need for a software update to be sent to the helicopter has delayed the schedule for a week or two. When the new launch date is set, It will begin with the first flight attempt of a helicopter on any other planet besides the Earth. Depending on if your library is having on-site programs or you are looking for Take & Make activity bags, there are several activities that will work well for both options. A great Mars Drop Copter activity can be found here: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/project/make-a-paper-mars-helicopter/ This activity was a big hit at Hudson Area Public Library, as our location features an upstairs level with a balcony at the top of the stairs that allowed students to make their test drops from the 2nd floor. Standing on a chair or just an outstretched arm at shoulder height works as well.
For younger guests this marshmallow version of Ingenuity may be a better fit. This one is a simple build, and a lot of fun to make.
Participants can color a blank sheet of paper to look like the Martian surface and can even practice table top drops of their marshmallow creations to see if they land in a stable upright fashion.
The flights of Ingenuity are scheduled for a thirty day window from the first flight. The flights will start with a short straight up, short hover, and then landing where it took off. The test flights are scheduled to become more ambitious as the flights progress. For more information on this tech demo mission and to see an animation of what Ingenuity will look like in action https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/.
Engineers had to keep Ingenuity as small and lightweight as they could, to keep from negatively impacting the Perseverance Rovers overall weight or mission. This led to the helicopters unique storage area underneath the belly pan of the rover with a pair of foldout landing legs.
Much like the small Sojourner Rover in 1997 was a tech demo to see if mobility on the surface of Mars would be a viable option for future exploration missions, so to Ingenuity could pave the way for larger and more accomplished helicopters to be sent to Mars on future missions, perhaps as an exploration aid to future astronauts taking their first steps on the red planet.
And if all of this was not cool enough, you can learn about MiMi Yuang the 30-year veteran of JPL who is the Ingenuity Project Leader. https://www.cnet.com/news/nasa-ingenuity-meet-mimi-aung-the-woman-launching-a-helicopter-on-mars/
News is sure to be buzzing about Mars for the next month!