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NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars

Nasa logo
The NASA logo is displayed at the agency's booth. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NASA is deploying The Mars Helicopter, "a small, autonomous rotorcraft, [that] will travel with the agency’s Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020," the agency announced in a press release.

The problem facing NASA engineers: How to overcome Mars’ relatively thin atmosphere, which would doom any conventional craft. Proving this concept could help with future human exploration of the planet.

The details: "The full 30-day flight test campaign will include up to five flights of incrementally farther flight distances, up to a few hundred meters, and longer durations as long as 90 seconds, over a period. On its first flight, the helicopter will make a short vertical climb to 10 feet (3 meters), where it will hover for about 30 seconds."

It's goals: "The rover will conduct geological assessments of its landing site on Mars, determine the habitability of the environment, search for signs of ancient Martian life, and assess natural resources and hazards for future human explorers."

Go deeper: NASA's Mars helicopter technology demonstration.