Yuri’s Night and Ingenuity: Worldwide Celebrations and the First Powered Flight on Mars

Have you ever heard of the World Space Party? Had it not been for the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent pandemic, space enthusiasts would have been preparing for Yuri’s Night – an annual project celebrating the feats of space exploration. Yuri’s Night celebrations range from raves and parties to Q&A sessions and symposia. Spread across 30 countries, this event commemorates Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey to space on April 12, 1981. Also, the launch of STS-1, the first space shuttle on April 12, 1981.

Every year, this worldwide event showcases all the ways that the pursuit of the final frontier unites all of humanity.

Mars 2020 Mission

Perhaps the latest scientific endeavour which has seen the world come together in anticipation is the ongoing Mars 2020 mission. The mission, which is being carried out by NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, consists of the Perseverance Rover and, most notably, the Ingenuity helicopter drone. They were launched on the 30th of July, 2020 and landed on Mars 18th of February, 2021. The major objective of the Perseverance Rover is to investigate the astrobiology on Mars and hopefully answer the question of whether life has ever existed on the Red Planet. 

The Perseverance Rover

The landing site for the Perseverance rover, the Jezero Crater, is the perfect candidate to carry out this mission’s main target goals. The Jezero Crater refers to a specific depression on Mars’ surface which once hosted a lake, marked by two clear inflow and outflow channels on either side of the crater, indicating that it was once filled with water. The crater also hosts one of the most immaculately preserved deltaic deposits found on Mars. This, along with the diverse mineralogy present at the site, create the ideal environment for finding traces of ancient microbial life on Mars, billions of years after their extinction.

The Perseverance Rover is similar to the Curiosity Rover (MSL mission, 2011) in many ways, but it has a number of important engineering and instrumental differences which set it apart and help it to search for specific biosignatures on Mars which Curiosity and other previous rovers could not identify. Notably, Perseverance will be the first rover that will collect and cache Martian rock and dust samples to be sent back to Earth. Additionally, Perseverance carries microphone technology, therefore equipping researchers working on the project with auditory perception. Previously, cameras have supplied sight, robotic hands and feet have given us touch, and chemical sensors have replicated smell and taste, thus making hearing the last of the five external human senses yet to be employed on Mars.

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mars

Ingenuity

Perseverance carried on her belly a helicopter drone, Ingenuity, which is by far the greatest and most exciting experiment of the mission. In the coming days, it is scheduled to attempt the first powered flight on another planet, possibly achieving what has been described as a “Wright Brothers moment” in planet exploration. On April 3rd, Perseverance arrived at the “airfield” where Ingenuity will attempt its first flight and has since deployed the rotorcraft to the surface of Mars. Should its test flight campaign, which will last 30 Martian days (31 Earth days), be successful, Ingenuity could pave the way for human exploration on Mars.

Engineering Ingenuity in such a way that it could perform its fundamental objective (flight) was no easy task, as engineers had to account for the fact that the atmosphere on Mars is 1% that on Earth, and as such, a helicopter drone that would lift off on Earth would most likely not have enough power to do so on Mars. Hence, all test flights on Earth had to be conducted in a controlled environment to match conditions on Mars as closely as possible. The result is an extremely lightweight drone with four carbon-fiber blades, constructed into two rotors which spin in opposite directions at about 2,400 rpm, and carries with it no additional scientific instruments to support Perseverance.

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Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z Gives Ingenuity a Close-up, taken April 5th on the 45th sol of the mission. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU)

Trip to Mars

Ingenuity is scheduled to lift off at 12:30pm local Mars solar time (roughly 4:54am Malta time, 14th April), with NASA set to livestream the test flight and data at 9:30am on the same day, coincidentally the day that Yuri’s Night is celebrated. Ingenuity’s flight will only last 90 seconds, as it flies to a height of 10 feet, hover, and then land. However, the outcome will determine the fate of the entire mission, bringing us a step closer to understanding our place in the universe. Will you be watching?



The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not reflective of ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ as a whole.


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