NASA flying helicopter to Mars using remote control

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It isn't even certain that vehicles can levitate on Mars, but the NASA helicopter seeks to "demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet", according to a Friday statement.

The Mars 2020 mission, slated to launch in July 2020, is a rover created to look for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.

Tipping the scales at a little under four pounds (1.8 kilograms), the Mars Helicopter is quite small - its fuselage is no bigger than a softball, NASA pointed out.

"The elevation record for a helicopter flying on the planet is about 40,000 feet (12,200 meters)".

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Solar cells will charge the helicopter's lithium-ion batteries, and a heating mechanism should keep it from freezing in the cold Martian nights. "NASA has a proud history of firsts", said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement.

NASA released an animated video of the helicopter zipping around Mars to the tune of a heart-pounding soundtrack.

Mars 2020 is scheduled now to launch sometime in July 2020 with a landing slated for February 2021.

What will the Mars Helicopter do? Engineers built the copter's twin, counter-rotating blades to "bite into the thin Martian atmosphere at nearly 3,000 rpm - about 10 times the rate of a helicopter on Earth", said a NASA statement. Scientists want to test the way "heavier air" vehicles will operate on the red planet, a NASA spokesman said.

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NASA plans to use the Mars Helicopter on five flights over the course of 30 days, covering distances up to a few hundred metres in 90 seconds or less.

"The real challenge is that the Martian atmosphere is very thin-about 1 percent of Earth's atmosphere-which means that it's not going to look like your typical drone in your backyard", Farley said.

That would be a boon to any future missions to take samples on Mars and return them to Earth for analysis. "We have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the ground, and then fly the mission on its own", Aung said.

If the mission proves successful, helicopters will be used in future missions to planets to access locations not reachable by ground travel.

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"The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers", Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's associate administrator for science, said. "With the added dimension of a bird's-eye view from a 'marscopter, ' we can only imagine what future missions will achieve".