Since using a remote controlled helicopter with video goggles strapped to your face and spying on your neighbors is now a thing, why not populate the surface of mars with buzzing drones? Now NASA wants to supplement the Mars rover with a whirly bird to triple its daily operating range.
NASA rovers to Mars have been providing us earthlings with a wealth of knowledge, but getting around on the surface of the red planet is hard work. Atmospheric conditions and onboard camera limitations present a challenge for the robotic explorers to plan and execute the most efficient route along the foreboding terrain. Not to mention the punishment the wheels take from obstacles on the ground.
Enter a solar powered, autonomous helicopter to partner in a symbiotic relationship to scout out what's worth studying and how to best get there. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California has developed a proof of concept developed as a potential add-on for future rovers. The current design is roughly the size of a square kleenex box and has a wingspan of 3.6 feet. One obvious hurdle is testing a drone that can fly successfully on a planet with 3/8th the gravity we have here on Earth and 100 times less atmosphere.
Can NASA replace human exploration to Mars, or will Elon have his way and figure out how to sustain life on other planets and colonize Mars?
Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS