NASA says humans won’t be flying around Mars on big versions of Ingenuity helicopter

NASA’s experimental Ingenuity helicopter hopes to take flight on Mars.


Space fans are eagerly awaiting updates on when the Ingenuity Mars helicopter might attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. That gives us time to imagine the possibilities for flying on other worlds. If Ingenuity is successful, could it become a prototype for a Mars chopper that would carry humans? Unfortunately not.

NASA associate administrator Thomas Zerbuchen and Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung answered questions on Twitter on Wednesday. “Could a future Mars helicopter be upscaled to carry an astronaut?” one Twitter user asked

Mars’ atmosphere is extremely thin compared with Earth’s. “We cannot carry people on Mars, unfortunately. There is not enough atmosphere there,” Aung said. “But we see flying vehicles carrying significant payloads for astronauts and science exploration.”

Ingenuity’s rotors are about 4 feet (1.2 meters) from tip to tip. Aung said future Mars helicopter rotors could reach about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) to carry heavier payloads, but that would still be far, far away from lifting a human body.

Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. It will be thrilling if it works, but there are no guarantees. NASA has yet to set a new targeted date for its first flight because the little chopper needed a software update.   

Zerbuchen and Aung fielded other questions during the Twitter session. Zerbuchen said his biggest fear for the first flight would be a wind blast coming along and pushing the helicopter around. He also said the team hopes to get the rotorcraft off the ground sometime next week.

Before we start thinking about sci-fi-style flying machines on Mars, Ingenuity will help scientists answer a more basic question: “What does it take to fly on Mars at all?”

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