NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which is attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, holds a small relic from the Wright brothers’ first airplane, which took flight more than 100 years earlier.
A small amount of the material from the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, is now aboard Ingenuity, which arrived on Mars on Feb. 18, NASA revealed in a statement on Tuesday.
The small swatch of fabric was wrapped with tape around a cable located underneath the helicopter’s solar panel, the agency wrote.
The Wright brothers, NASA noted, used the same type of material — an unbleached muslin called “Pride of the West” — to cover the glider and aircraft wings beginning in 1901.
“While Ingenuity will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, the first powered, controlled flight on Earth took place Dec. 17, 1903, on the windswept dunes of Kill Devil Hill, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Orville and Wilbur Wright covered 120 feet in 12 seconds during the first flight. The Wright brothers made four flights that day, each longer than the previous,” the statement from NASA reads.
“A small amount of the material that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, known as the Flyer, during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity,” the statement added.
The swatch of fabric, which is the size of a postage stamp, made the 300-million-mile expedition to Mars with the blessing of the Wright brothers’ great-grandniece and great-grandnephew, The Associated Press reported, citing a curator from the Carillon Historical Park, which donated the piece to NASA.
“Wilbur and Orville Wright would be pleased to know that a little piece of their 1903 Wright Flyer I, the machine that launched the Space Age by barely one quarter of a mile, is going to soar into history again on Mars!” Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright said in a statement the park provided to the AP.
A different piece of the material, in addition to a small splinter of wood from the Wright Flyer, was also aboard the July 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon, NASA noted.
Ingenuity is on track to attempt the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet no earlier than April 8, NASA wrote. Before the Ingenuity can attempt the first flight, the helicopter and its team must meet a string of “daunting milestones,” the statement from NASA reads.
For now, the helicopter remains attached to the belly of Perseverance, NASA wrote.
On July 30, Perseverance launched into space towards Mars from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a mission to search for signs of past life on the red planet. On Feb. 18, the rover successfully landed on Mars, becoming the fifth rover NASA has sent to the red planet.