|Airplanes on Mars
Nearly one hundred years ago, in 1903, human flight on Earth began
with the Wright Brothers epic flight at Kitty Hawk. Today, scientists and engineers hope to fly a Mars
airplane sometime in the next decade. Current research is underway to design an airplane that could
navigate on its own without human pilots. These airplanes would be able to gather better images of
the surface and cover more territory than current orbiter or rover technologies allow.
Because the Martian atmosphere is so thin, taking off from the
ground would require very big wings or a very fast take-off. One
solution to this problem is to have the airplane drop off an entry vehicle
as it is coming into the Martian sky. As the plane drops off, the wings
would unfold and it would start flying, being powered either by
batteries or by gliding through the air. A likely place to fly airplanes would be in valleys or other
interesting places where there is a lot to see over great distances.
Although this flight would be relatively short, less than an hour, and
shorter than a balloon flight for example, an airplane is more controllable
and can be directed to closely approach targets of interest. To receive even more data from an airplane,
engineers are also engaged in further research that will give them insight into how to
make a Mars airplane stay aloft for longer periods of time.