Planetary Radio • May 19, 2021

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Project Manager MiMi Aung

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MiMi Aung

Mars Helicopter Project Manager for Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

The tiny Mars Helicopter Ingenuity has flown into our hearts. Project manager MiMi Aung and her team may have made it look easy, but Aung explains why it was anything but. Bruce Betts has tips for viewing the upcoming total lunar eclipse. Planetary Radio t-shirts are back as prizes in the space trivia contest! And we’ve got space headlines from The Downlink, our weekly newsletter.

Ingenuity's Team Reacts to Its First Flight
Ingenuity's Team Reacts to Its First Flight Members of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter team in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory react to data showing that the helicopter completed its first flight on April 19, 2021.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ingenuity's first image from the air
Ingenuity's first image from the air NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this shot, capturing its own shadow, while hovering over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during the first instance of powered, controlled flight on another planet. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Perseverance's Selfie with Ingenuity
Perseverance's Selfie with Ingenuity NASA's Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter in the background on the 46th Martian day, or sol, of the mission.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Attaching Mars Helicopter
Attaching Mars Helicopter An engineer works on attaching NASA's Mars Helicopter to the belly of the Mars 2020 rover - which has been flipped over for that purpose.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Mat Kaplan: The Mars Helicopter's MiMi Aung, this week on Planetary Radio. Welcome, I'm Mat Kaplan of the Planetary Society with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. Many thought it couldn't be done, but the team at the Jet Propulsion Lab, and their partners kept at it for years, you've seen the result. As we publish this week's episode, Ingenuity has completed five flights on the red planet, each of them more challenging than the last.

Mat Kaplan: MiMi will tell us about the many obstacles they had to overcome to achieve this success, along with what she hopes will come next. Want to win a snazzy Planetary Radio T-Shirt, your chance has finally returned with this week's What's Up segment. Bruce Betts also has pointers for viewing the upcoming total lunar eclipse. You may still have time to register for the first Mars innovation forum from our friends at explore Mars.

Mat Kaplan: I'll be there to moderate a session about building and creating this stuff humans will someday need out there on fourth rock. Details are at Bye-bye Bennu, Osiris-Rex captured one last image of the asteroid it has been orbiting as the spacecraft began its journey back to earth, caring a precious cargo of asteroid material. The snapshot leads the May 14th edition of the downlink, where you can also learn about the two year trip ahead.

Mat Kaplan: You probably know the China's Long March 5B rocket. The one that carried the first segment of its new space station to lower earth orbit came down safely in the Indian ocean, but did you see MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, talk with me about this uncontrolled deorbit. There's a link to my appearance at Lastly, there's this also in the downlink [inaudible 00:02:03].

Mat Kaplan: Hear that hum over the Martian wind? That's the sound of Ingenuity's rotor, spinning furiously at about 2,500 RPM. The recording was made by the Perseverance rover during the helicopters fourth flight on April 30th. No one was prouder or happier to hear that [inaudible 00:02:32], than Mars Helicopter Project Manager, MiMi Aung. She joined me online not long after Ingenuity's fifth flight for the enthusiastic conversation you're about to hear.

Mat Kaplan: MiMi, welcome back to Planetary Radio. Congratulations to you and the entire Ingenuity team on the magnificent success of this little flying machine. We are all blown away out here, and really thanks for coming back.

MiMi Aung: Thank you, thank you for cheering us on.

Mat Kaplan: We definitely do that. Can you believe the attention that the Mars helicopter has been generating for weeks now?

MiMi Aung: Yes, it's humbling, and it's energizing, and it's just amazing support. Really, really grateful for that, thank you.

Mat Kaplan: It is such a pleasure, it really is inspiring. And it's that power to inspire that I think we may talk about toward the end of this conversation. I got something to play for you, if I can bring it up here. You already told me you saw the movie the Martian, right? And you notice the one big fudge that Andy Weir, the author had to put it into the story, right?

MiMi Aung: Yes, yes. With air blowing the hub over, yes. Hemisphere pushing the hub over, yes.

Mat Kaplan: I bet you only wish that there was that much air on Mars.

MiMi Aung: It's atmosphere. And I just misspoke with air.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, no, I understand.

MiMi Aung: [inaudible 00:03:56] so sorry.

Mat Kaplan: Atmosphere is certainly appropriate. Andy was my guest on the show, he came back on the show about two weeks ago to talk about his new book. I want to play this little clip for you from that interview. Here it goes, I hope this works. Don't you think having a little drone to play with might've helped Mark Watney passed the time?

Andy Weir: Probably would have. Yeah, probably would have. It's like [inaudible 00:04:18] this is fun. I'm not accomplishing anything. If you asked me a few years ago, "Hey, what do you think about a helicopter on Mars?" I would have said that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard, because Mars has like less than 1% of our atmosphere. Those blades are going to be going absurdly fast, it's going to have to wait like nothing and well, they did it and it works.

Mat Kaplan: To through paraphrase the great Jeff Goldbloom, JPL finds a way?

Andy Weir: JPL finds a way. I can say there was a lot of Ingenuity in the design of that.

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, one might.

MiMi Aung: That's a fun conversation.

Mat Kaplan: It really was fun. We like to talk real space with Andy as well, because he is maybe the biggest fan in the world of JPL, and space exploration, so I thought you might enjoy that. By the way, nice work on 60 minutes a few days ago, I thought Anderson Cooper did great work on that story about Ingenuity and about Perseverance.

MiMi Aung: Absolutely yes. Really understanding that it is challenging, it's really was in the beginning considered... A lot of people thought it would not be possible, right? It's a fair skepticism because it is counter intuitive, the atmosphere there is so thin, and how can you possibly fly? Absolutely, really having come a long way, systematically one step at a time, incrementally proving lift, and then controlled flight, and then going on to build this 1.8 kilogram vehicle, that was the engineering challenge that follow the aerodynamics challenge.

MiMi Aung: And then really, how do you accommodate it on perseverance? That's where the Perseverance rover team, the Ingenuity team really had to work together, because Mars Helicopter is not a standard payload, extremely challenging, especially as a late coming payload to be integrated. So we work well together, and then we continued on working together the Ingenuity team, and the rover operations team to really operate this helicopter, which had to be maintained every couple of weeks, and through the whole cruise phase to maintain our batteries health, and to keep monitoring.

MiMi Aung: And then of course, after landing the surface team, really, I like to use the word coddled, spoiled us. Really helped us look after, maintain the helicopter until the deployment, and the Perseverance rover, Mars Helicopter delivery system that the rover team worked with Lockheed Martin, really did a great job of really accommodating and deploying the helicopter to the surface.

MiMi Aung: Prior to the deployment when people asked me, what is your assessment probability of success? And I used to like to say, and I really believed it that if Ingenuity lands on its feet in the condition that we send it off, send it off to the rover to be taken to Mars and deployed, chances are very good, because we've tested this vehicle on earth. It was all about if we're elect, dropping the condition that we sent it off. And second is of course, a lot of the parts, the commercial off the shelf parts, and the special parts that we had to adapt for space use.

MiMi Aung: If those survive, it should work well, and all of it has come true. This Mars Helicopter delivery system on the rover delivered the Ingenuity exactly the way we delivered to the rover. And then the helicopter has been acting exactly the way we've seen it tested on earth. So it's been amazing.

Mat Kaplan: I want to encourage everybody who's listening, go to the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity project website. Among the videos there, of course, the flights that blow us all away, but there is this great video showing the deployment on earth as it was being tested at JPL, showing you the steps that Perseverance and Ingenuity had to go through to do what MiMi was just talking about. To be down on its own four feet on the surface. It is just amazing if you love mechanical stuff, it is a marvel to watch.

MiMi Aung: Absolutely, and when time came to integrate the two sides, right? The rover and the helicopter, both sides really had to innovate, yes. The rover on their side making the room and the space on the belly pan, and getting a little bit of space above. And like you said, a mechanical engineering marvel. And then on the helicopter side, JPL partnered closely with AeroVironment, and AeroVironment had delivered the rotor system as well as the landing gear, and the solar panel substrate.

MiMi Aung: But the landing gear that was built on Ingenuity already, just the hinge that had to be put on late in the game, that was swapped out, the scheme that we came up with to put on the rover, require the legs to be stretched out and pulled up and held for many, many months until it was deployed. And then on deployment, after all that time of being stretched, it had to snap into place like legs. Even though it was an add on, and then on the rotor system, AeroVironment put on the blade, a pitch restraint system that also had to be added on, very clever design so that the blades wouldn't be spinning freely while it was still under the rover. A lot of late innovations, even beyond the initial innovation of the helicopter itself.

Mat Kaplan: I am so glad that you mentioned AeroVironment, one of your partners on this project, because I have been a big fan of that company since way back when its founder Paul McCrady was still around. They really seem to have been great partners on this. And they were also in that 60 minutes story that I mentioned.

MiMi Aung: Yes, absolutely. AeroVironment, JPL, and the Ames, NASA Langley, and then Qualcomm, Celero. We've partnered very, very well together. And then AeroVironment has been partners in fact, all the way in the early days with Dr. Bob Bellarine, our chief engineer, the innovator of the whole design. And he's the one that always believed from the beginning, and got all of us to drink the Kool-Aid.

MiMi Aung: From the early days of picking up the research, and going back to repeat the tests from those early days, Bob and AeroVironment reconnected together, and then we grew from there. Absolutely pure, pure technical partnership between the NASA centers and the industry, and it had to be partnered in a way without boundaries, primarily driven by this 1.8 kilograms. And it's lovely, right? When you cannot have boundaries, or else we're not going to fly, you learn to drop everything and it's a really highly integrated system.

Mat Kaplan: Please give your colleague, Bob, our regards and congratulations as well. He was also a guest on the show. The last time you and I talked, testing was still underway. I know you've talked about this many times, but could you address once again, what had to be done, how this project evolved, were there doubts early on that maybe the technology could reach the level that would be required if you wanted to fly across Mars?

MiMi Aung: You asked for a long story, be careful, I can keep talking forever.

Mat Kaplan: [crosstalk 00:11:35] we got time.

MiMi Aung: I just can't stop talking about it. Our team really takes pride in, I think, we were really systematic about it in a really streamlined way. The very first question is what everybody says. Really how can you even lift in this very thin atmosphere? In the beginning, there were lift tests, tests that were done with just the rotor system in a chamber with seven, eight tour pressure in a chamber. And you see this rotor just lifting with guided rails, right? So that was kind of traditional weight.

MiMi Aung: The next step really was the question of now, can we demonstrate lift without any guide rails, just see how does the vehicle lift? So this one, the little one-third scale vehicle was taken into now a very large that are 25 foot space simulator chamber at JPL, before that we were in the more of a 10 foot chamber environment. This little one-third vehicle scale was taken to the 25 foot chamber in collaboration again, JPL and AeroVironment. And in fact, that one third scale vehicle, Mat Keenan from AeroVironment was joysticking it from the outside of the chamber, because you can't be in the chamber. There's not enough air in there, right?

Mat Kaplan: Yeah, it wouldn't be healthy.

MiMi Aung: No, and in fact we had a very healthy debate about how long should we run this demo, but want to make sure it was 20, 30 seconds. Make sure it's long enough so that we're stable, and others are like, "Well, there should be more like 20 seconds no more, and because it could get hot." Heavy, heavy argument. Well, what happens? We took it there, surprise, the vehicle definitely lifted at about 8,000 RPM, some high RPM, right? Because it was a little only one third scale, a very high RPM, and that the predicted RPM, it lifted.

MiMi Aung: But it turned out, we learned during that experiment, the human response is so slow and the dynamics are so fast that you couldn't control, a human outside just no matter how good wasn't fast enough to do the control. That was the first experiment that really said, "Ah, the dynamics at Mars are very different." We were then challenged by our sponsor, NASA headquarters saying, "Now, show us that you really can fly in a controller way, right? Not just lift, show us you can fly in a controlled way."

MiMi Aung: And that's when we really went into hardcore analysis, fundamental analysis, and simulation. We turned the corner from experimentation to really heavy modeling and analysis coupled with testing. And that's when we really engaged really closely within NASA ARMDs. Susan Gordon is my counterpart there, she's the program manager for the NASA ARMDs revolutionary vertical lift technology program. Which has all the NASA folks from the rotorcraft community of NASA. We met her and her team at Ames actually, we all gathered at Ames. Susan's from Glenn, but at Ames we met because there was a large contingent of the rotorcraft system community there. We had a first meeting.

MiMi Aung: We really went into modeling the blade now, the full-scale blade really modeling it in partial pieces about 32 pieces for blade, and really modeling the lift and the drag, the aerodynamic model. The lift and the drag of all of those integrating those individual lift and drag pieces, integrate them into blade, and then modeling what the dynamic of the vehicle would be when you spin that blade, and you're optimizing this where the Wayne Johnson of Ames, Larry Young, those are the experts in the rotorcraft.

MiMi Aung: They really worked with us, and optimize a blade as much as possible, and model that. And taking that lift and the drag and the resulting dynamics of the system. Then from JPL, the flight controls, flight guidance navigation and control leads. Havard Grip, our chief pilot now. He really then worked with Ames and Langley, took the dynamics, and then put a control system around it and say, "Look, for this kind of dynamics, we need this kind of sensing, the control has to be this fast, and the rotor system would have to have this much response. Otherwise, we just can't close the loop."

MiMi Aung: And so that kind of closed loop control modeling was put on top of the dynamics model. And then the specifications were issued about, for example, AeroVironment building the rotor system, blade's need to be this [inaudible 00:16:06], it needs to respond that fast. The fuselage, with all the power electronics and the computers that JPL was building, here are the sensors. They have to have this sample rate and by the way, the motor control for the rotor motor control, those algorithms were a couple with JPL advanced algorithms from our JPL fellow, Ted Cop, actually personally designed the controls algorithms with Ryan Stern, who put them on the FPG.

MiMi Aung: I mean, a lot of that we based them now, this phase based on simulations and the specifications that came out of it. From there, we went on to build this risk reduction vehicle that was May 31st, 2016. I'll never forget that date, where we really put now the full-scale rotor system, coupled with the onboard IMU, the inertial measurement units on board, and camera based sensing system with a long lightweight tether, with computers and power under the chamber.

MiMi Aung: And in a closed loop fashion controlled by a computer, we had our first autonomous flight. At that point, remember the people who were skeptical in the beginning, I think we won everybody over except the next step which is, this is amazing, it is possible to fly at Mars, but can we really build now a full helicopter under 1.8 kilograms? You can get the sense, right?

MiMi Aung: We went from the prototype to the risk reduction vehicle, went from it's impossible to as possible, but we never get to celebrate our rest, because now can we build it under 1.8 kilograms? And in time before Perseverance gets launched, because they're going to leave with or without us. The next phase then, the testing became the engineering development model, once we built the whole system, now it has to have this solar panel, solar cells, telecom system, all of the avionics, the power, the battery, all of the sensors, the thermal system, all the materials, and processes have to be compliant for launch, all that had to be built under 1.8 kilograms. And we did it.

Mat Kaplan: You sure did. What a fascinating narrative you've just taken us through. So many questions come up for me. I suspect that one of the biggest parts of your job was being the person at the center of all this, integrating the work of all these wonderful experts, and getting them all to come together in that little tiny package.

MiMi Aung: Yes, absolutely. And it's been an honor, and it's been exhilarating, and really fun, because it really is a crossroads of engineering and technical challenge, but there's also a programmatic challenge in terms of time, and also technology demonstration. It's a lower budget, right? And so really it is the crossroad of technical and programmatic, and in the technical side, I mean, we all come from different backgrounds, right?

MiMi Aung: For me personally, I'm single processing communications and close loop control. I tend to look at all systems as close loop control systems, right? The loop must close, and how well can you sense and control, but that's just one discipline, right? But you realize bringing something like this together as a team, we had to respect every discipline. Being in the crossroads of all of that, each of us, and I definitely add to myself too, really appreciate where is each discipline getting stuck to get us to the finish line.

MiMi Aung: A great example is when we had to trade, when we needed more energy for thermal. Thermal, well, we can make the solar panel bigger, the batteries bigger, but then you have more mass, but Bob's jobs, chief engineer's job was like absolutely trading all of that. From the project manager perspective also, it really is also really following and participating with the trades, because there is a technical absolute solution trade, but then there's also time, right?

MiMi Aung: We can only take so long, and at some point we have to also say, "Okay, this is good and we need to move forward." In this case, we had a solar panel that's just large enough, and the power system that's large enough, but we had to stop trading once we could close the design for the summer timeframe of Mars. And we didn't continue on to optimize it further so that it could last through the winters. That was the kind of decisions that would come, right? So really the balancing between the technical optimization versus there is also time. Otherwise, you can get better than this, you can have a better vehicle, but you're not going to catch the ride.

Mat Kaplan: You going to miss the ride. Something that did not occur to me before you were telling this story, is it possible that advances made in the development of the helicopter are going to spin off, maybe already have into earthbound technologies? I'm thinking of how you design this incredibly light rotor designed to work in 1% of earth atmosphere. Is that something that people are saying, "Hmm, I can use that to do so-and-so."

MiMi Aung: This is a great question for Susan Gordon, I really would like to recommend you invite Susan Gordon from Glen, who is running the directorates revolutionary vertical lift technology program. It is a very arrow world advancement, and I'm not very knowledgeable as I tend to be on the space side, in the space exploration side.

Mat Kaplan: I made a note of it, and maybe I'll contact her if I have a chance. Five flights completed now, as we speak, I mean, by the time people hear this, you may have completed six. And we'll ask you what's coming up in a moment, but I just wonder how is Ingenuity holding up? You're all ready have more than met your goals, right?

MiMi Aung: Ingenuity has been impressive. I have to tell you, just impressive. I think we're all speechless. The reason is, we have been really modeling thinking what Mars is like, right? I mean, really deeply thinking, reflecting them in the model, starting from the atmospheric models to thermal models, and the environmental models for launch, for landing. But then really also surviving the night and looking at the energy models.

MiMi Aung: And then on top of it, do we have enough energy to fly? And then all the frequencies on the vehicle, all the vibrations, and I mean, every area you can think of it's been highly interdisciplinary. As we were building and testing the vehicle, it hasn't been just about flying, it really is about as you spin up, what are things happening? How is it taking off? And then what are the currents? What are the voltages? What are the temperatures, right?

MiMi Aung: And even on the days that you're not flying the telecommunication link, and do we have enough energy to survive the night? That was one of the biggest worries of our team, right? After deployment, does it survive the first night? Well, it looks like everybody in that tiny little 1.8 kilograms, everybody had managed to tuck in a lot of margins up their sleeves, I have to tell you.

Mat Kaplan: That's so typical of you people at JPL. Rover [crosstalk 00:23:16] and helicopters that just keep on flying.

MiMi Aung: I know, but given how tight we were in Mars, and just every one hour that mattered, it has been amazing. I mean, starting all the way from the survival of the first night, it was the thermal model... The thermal team has been amazing tuning the thermal from since the chamber test on earth, and chamber test on the rover still on the next scale on earth. And even calibrating it up space during cruise, and after landing on the rover.

MiMi Aung: The thermal folks have been updating their models. And now when you look at the predicted range of where temperatures should be, versus where the dots of the actual measurement they're right on now, just nailing the temperatures. And then how much energy they need has been modeled so well now, and we're coming out of the nights with very good, healthy state of charge, and we are back over 90, 92, 93 higher than state of charge by midday, which is, the peak was predicted to be maybe to take till 2:00 PM, local Martian Standard Time.

MiMi Aung: Well, by noon or so, we're in the '90s percent state of charge. We had gone from, whoa, we better wait until late enough to fly the energy too. Wow, decent, middle of the day, we can fly anytime too. If you look at the temperature plots, and the energy plots, the voltages and the currents, there's [Jaco Karas 00:24:45], who's been monitoring and watching the voltages in the several currents all the time. And he's like, "Exactly the way we have always seen it, the whole time we were testing."

MiMi Aung: If you really kind of look at it, and of course, if you talk to Havard, and you see the flight trajectory, we are controlling the altitude to a centimeter. When we're up at five meter flight, and the heading to one and a half degrees after we're landing, it's just been phenomenal. I guess Ingenuity had been ready for it's training. We also have been taken up long before we were ever ready to let it go.

MiMi Aung: I mean, and hopefully you saw, right? Especially the flight three when the first time Ingenuity actually flew out of the Mars MZ field of view, that was incredible. I mean, the poor thing has been trapped in our chamber, or this little area that we've been letting it to fly, is finally like I'm flying. And so it's been impressive, really impressive.

Mat Kaplan: I don't know about you, but on that flight, when it flew out of the frame, it was like, "Oh my God, Oh my God, please come back, please come back." And of course it did. I [inaudible 00:25:54] knew, right?

MiMi Aung: My feeling for me personally, it was like, "Wow, it's finally getting to fly the distances that it was assigned to." That's what I felt. I felt really happy that it's... And in so far, I mean, the last trip was I mean, that's almost 270 meters round trip. It's designed to fly hundreds of meters. And so I just feel very happy that it's finally flying the distances is designed to.

Mat Kaplan: MiMi Aung and I will be right back. Still ahead is our conversation about what's to come now that we know powered flight on Mars is possible. Stay with us.

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Mat Kaplan: So what's next? You've got more flights now planned, right? And in fact, Perseverance is sticking around to monitor these, to help out for a little bit longer than was originally planned.

MiMi Aung: Yes. Next year we have our technology demonstration 100% vetch. So we're very proud. Technology demonstration is complete, NASA has given us 30 days of the new 30 days to do operational demonstration. Now we really go into the regime of what operational regime of having a rotorcraft on Mars along with a rover, it is about looking at cases of scouting, or aerial observations of sites that are not reachable by rovers, or scouting ahead of helicopter, or future rovers, or from aerial vantage point making 3D stereo products that we can take from by taking images from above as opposed to from a rover that we traditionally do.

MiMi Aung: We're looking at these kinds of products. And so we are working with that. The big change is that Perseverance is now gone back to their primary science. I mean, Perseverance has an extremely important science project, and we've been really lucky to get all of their attention for the month of Ingenuity. So now the difference is we're working wherever we can interleave our operational demonstration.

MiMi Aung: And then the second is, we are also getting guidance from Perseverance team, the operational and the science folks on suggestions on products, and operational scenarios that will be useful for future missions, because since the Perseverance team is really hands-on, they have to really firsthand insight and foresight into, "Hey, when we build the next generation of missions, right? These are the kinds of operational scenarios and products that would really compliment science that's being performed by a rover." It's a very exciting phase.

Mat Kaplan: I wonder on behalf of a lot of people like that, has there been consideration of having Ingenuity tag along, as Perseverance heads out across Jezero crater, or would that just be too much of a distraction from the science that Perseverance has to do?

MiMi Aung: I think it will fall in the letter. Ken Farley is the project scientist, and he and his very global extensive team have really carefully designed the science. That design doesn't include the use of Ingenuity for that. And so it wouldn't be really the cooperation, the collaboration that we're doing now is really with our eye together towards a future science missions.

MiMi Aung: That's one, and then second as we were talking earlier, Ingenuity can only last really the spring and the summer. And then when it gets too cold, Ingenuity is not sized enough as the tech demo. Now future and helicopter is different story. We'll be able to last a long time, but Ingenuity the way it's built cannot last once the cold temperatures start to come in.

Mat Kaplan: Let me follow up on that. You're talking about future helicopters. Is there, are you, or others already taking what's been learned, and starting to think about more ambitious flying machines for the red planet? And I wonder now if next time a rover goes to Mars, or someday humans, do you have any doubt that they're going to have rotorcraft along the with them?

MiMi Aung: Well, the second question, future rotorcraft on future emissions I certainly hope so. But that's a great question for Dr. [Sabukin 00:31:24], and Dr. Lori Glaze, and I think everybody's very excited, and I'll leave it there, but definitely the Science Mission Directorate, and Aeronautics Research Mission director, this is very exciting topic. I think it's a great topic, and I think we're all very excited about having aerial vehicles complimentary to rovers on the surface and of course, complimentary to spacecraft continuing to be on orbit.

MiMi Aung: Definitely I think, adding the aerial dimension is just opening up a whole new regime. In terms of now research and technology development, what's the next generation? Yes, they are a lot of, again, from the research and technology development side, a lot of excitement about now next generation rotorcraft. A couple that I'm aware of are, for example JPL partnering with Ames, and AeroVironment, looking at the scaling, we are only a 1.2 meter diameter rotor system right now, right?

MiMi Aung: Scaling up to three, three and a half meters, diameter rotor system talking about 15 kilogram, kind of a vehicle carrying couple of kilograms, one and a half, two kilogram payloads. Then it becomes a very serious exploration system, those activities are definitely the collaboration is continuing in the pushing the research and technology venue. We have a great running start.

Mat Kaplan: If you extrapolate that scalability out? Can you or has anybody else imagined a day when a rotorcraft on Mars could maybe carry a human? That's an awfully big jump I know.

MiMi Aung: Yeah, the current analysis show we cannot go that far on Mars, other planetary targets, yes. Titan of course, Venus of course, has hot environment, there is thick atmosphere. But at Mars, the atmosphere is too thin really. The limits of about three and a half meter diameter, after that the dynamics, the floppiness of the blades, all of this try to come in, and then you trying to fight with a Mars constraint. Really the vision for Mars is effective aerial vehicle to really get to places you can't get to, and to really partner with science exploration and human exploration.

Mat Kaplan: How'd you know I was going to take you to Titan next, because I know Elizabeth Turtle, Zippy Turtle, and the Dragon Fly project, and the folks at APL who are working on it, other side of the country that they've been talking to you and your people, right? Because that's going to be a rotorcraft flying above a very different world.

MiMi Aung: Yes. It's exciting, exciting, right? My dream is for rotorcraft to become a norm, right? When you go to a planet with a atmosphere, any atmosphere we should have a flying machine accompanying whatever's on the surface, and whatever's in orbit. So it's really exciting that Dragon Fly is in development, but the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, Michael Ryschkewitsch, who heads the APL space sector at the Applied Physics Lab, that's developing a Dragon Fly, was our independent review board chair throughout the lifetime of our development.

MiMi Aung: Yes, we definitely are happy to also help, especially I think that we'll also start to cross over even more as they go into the integration, and test, and verification, and validation, because thinking of how do you test rotorcraft, something that has to fly in a totally different atmosphere than on earth. How to set that up becomes very tricky.

MiMi Aung: And then the second one is, how do you operate? We don't overlap in terms of this very lightweight and very thin atmosphere, this unique Mach number and Reynolds number pair that we have on Mars, right? In terms of the atmosphere, we don't need to second that regime, but we are going to... We have a lot to offer that we will be very happy to share. How do you test verification, validation, and operate? Yes, absolutely Dragon Fly is going to come along, and then even a further step to becoming a flying rotorcraft being a norm.

Mat Kaplan: I can't wait to see that next flying machine, flying above that wild world of Titan as well. I'm going to come back to where we started, and that is the inspiration that Ingenuity has provided. Maybe, especially for young people. How important is that part of this project? To you, I mean, you've proven machines can fly. Rotorcraft can fly on Mars, but I mean, you look at the world reaction, and there are kids out there right now who are just blown away, and who knows, maybe deciding that they want to do something like this for a career.

MiMi Aung: They are inspiring me, because I think it really is, because it is unexpected. Most of us tend to be very humble, and we have our heads down, and we like to make things work. And taking on the Mars helicopter, which was considered almost impossible, that almost challenged us to work like crazy. We all worked a lot, our team worked an incredible amount, really driven by this.

MiMi Aung: No, no, we believe is possible based on the algorithms, seeing where the challenges are, and yes, it's not easy, but there was no way we were going to be told that it was impossible until we absolutely couldn't do it, right? And so at least personally, when you kind of say, our team is inspiring everybody, I feel very humble, and I'm inspired by the... I guess, I'm really inspired by the public that really has the foresight, and also the instinct, and the insight to really see that this was an accomplishment. I just feel very grateful, and honored to be even said that we're inspiring everyone.

Mat Kaplan: I do want to mention there are great ways for kids to get involved on the Mars Helicopter website, including you can make your own paper helicopter. I'm even more impressed by this Mars Helicopter video game, where apparently kids or big kids like me can actually do coding, and kind of become a Mars Helicopter pilot, at least on their own screen, their virtual helicopter that they can run at home. This is really cool stuff.

MiMi Aung: It is. And one of my colleagues from another project, Venus activity, he actually texted me like his young daughter did a video game. It just really impressive. So yes, just go for it everyone. I guess what I want to say to the new generation is, our team just did a pathfinder. It's just a proof of concept, it is not the ultimate flying machine, but it is something for your generation to really take it to the next step, make it bigger, and fly further, and longer, and do more capable things.

MiMi Aung: And just one example, if we have a bad landing on Ingenuity, it would be the end of the mission. Well, your next generation, you need to put a self riding system, but it has to be very lightweight. It's not like you can just tag on the sub writing system, it's got to be very clever, lightweight system, many other inventions that have to follow. I really leave it to your generation, you got to make it much greater than we are just a start, we're just a pathfinder. Please take it all the way.

Mat Kaplan: I hope we've got young people out there listening right now, who will take you up on that challenge as soon as they can. Not that you're done with Ingenuity, but MiMi what's next, what's ahead for you?

MiMi Aung: Oh, there a lot of options. Space exploration has a lot of opportunities. For example right now I've been involved in a Venus proposal. It's called Veritas. It's a mission to look at a full global observation of Venus, the surface and the interior Venus. And Venus holds so many answers as to the rocky planets. Why did Venus go the way Venus went, and earth evolved into a habitable planet?

MiMi Aung: And so what is the mechanics of rocky planet evolutions, and why do two planets that start in a similar way go two different ways. And then ultimately, I'm really motivated by what makes a planet habitable. There are so many now exoplanets that we are aware of compared to 20 years ago, remember it was a small number. Now we know so many exoplanets, well, which of those exoplanets are habitable, and Venus holds a lot of answers. That's an example, NASA JPL, there are a lot of... We finished one challenging project, and then we get rewarded by going onto other fun projects. I really want to keep pushing the state-of-the-art of space exploration. That's always, always my goal. I just want to be state-of-the-art.

Mat Kaplan: MiMi, it is wonderful to hear that you're going to be staying out there on the frontier. I hope that you, and the team have taken a little bit of time recently to celebrate this marvelous success of the Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, and best of continued success with the flights that are still left to us before Perseverance moves on looking for evidence of past life on that red planet.

MiMi Aung: Thank you so much. And thank you so much for cheering us on. Yes, we do [inaudible 00:41:10], I don't know, I'm still being recorded, but I must say when you said what's next for you. The first thing that came to my mind is, I get to take some days of vacation, is what I'm trying to plan, but I don't want to say that. Yes, just a short break, it'll be fun. It'll be really nice to rest, and then there is more to do, absolutely.

Mat Kaplan: Take that vacation, [inaudible 00:41:33], you might want to fly in a helicopter sometime. Thank you so much MiMi, as it has been in the past, it was an absolute joy to talk with you and best of continued success.

MiMi Aung: Thank you. It's good to see you again.

Mat Kaplan: Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Project Manager, MiMi Aung. Here comes Bruce Betts in What's Up. Time for What's Up on Planetary Radio. We are back with the chief scientist of the Planetary Society. I got something for you right upfront here from Christophe [Herrtel 00:42:04] in Norway who says, thanks for the show. I can't follow Bruce's night sky advice, because it won't be dark here for the next three months.

Bruce Betts: I'm sorry about that, I'll work on that. But I will point out that the sun is up in Norway, and you can check it out at all times of day. Even in Norway, don't stare at the sun without proper filters, but yeah, check out that sun.

Mat Kaplan: They're really smart in Norway, I'm sure that they would not stare at the sun, but it's a good reminder.

Bruce Betts: I'm legally obligated to say that.

Mat Kaplan: That's good actually. What else is happening for those of us who aren't stuck up there near the Arctic, or the Antarctic for that? I guess, the Antarctic they're doing well right now with stars.

Bruce Betts: Little brisk, a little chilly out, but I want to mention something not night sky, or maybe night sky related, which is to remind people that our new grants program pre-proposals are due May 26th. That's the step grants, science and technology empowered by the public. And if you think you've got a good idea, a good project, and a can justify it and all the right ways, go ahead and check out One word, stepgrants.

Mat Kaplan: Anybody can apply for these?

Bruce Betts: Anyone can apply. Yes, it's a two-step process, so we'll take pre-proposals due May 26th. And then based upon those, we will invite a select few to do full proposals. It's got a tide or core enterprises. Exploring space, finding life, defending earth from things like asteroids. It has to fit into that category, but anyone can apply, but obviously we're looking for things that not only fit, but that are credible, and will do something good, and leaping forward in science and technology in those areas.

Mat Kaplan: Good luck to any of you who decided to take on this challenge. And I hope that some of you Planetary Radio listeners will, and that someday you'll be on the show talking about what you accomplished with your first ever step grant.

Bruce Betts: Nice vision night sky. Sorry, Norway. Actually sorry, half the world, because the first thing I'm going to talk about is the total lunar eclipse that is coming up on May 26th. And it is for areas that are around the Pacific ocean. The Western North America, South America, Australia, Pacific islands, Japan, China, et cetera. You can check this out if you're on the Western side of the Pacific, it'll be in the evening. And if you're on the Eastern side of the Pacific, it'll be in the pre-dawn in the morning.

Bruce Betts: And it'll be a relatively short for a lunar eclipse total totality. It'll be about 15 minutes, because the moon is passing through kind of one edge of the earth shadow. It will probably be reddish, but it depends on the atmosphere because of the red light, getting refracted through the earths atmosphere, making it through the blue light scattering away.

Bruce Betts: And if you're watching the news, you'll see it referred to as a super blood flower moon, I guess, the flower kind of super blood flower moon. Flower moon is a traditional name derived from the native American Algonquin tribe for the full moon in May. Blood moon is what they like to call it, because it turns red. It is a super moon, which is when the moon is at full moon is closer to earth in its elliptical orbits.

Bruce Betts: It will be a slightly larger than your run of the mill average, non-super blood flower moon, and they're also planets up unless you're in Norway. In which case you can check out Jupiter looking super bright over in the east. Saturn to its upper right, and in the evening sky very low in the west, you've got super bright Venus, very low and above that Mercury and Mars up in the southwest in the early evening. Whew.

Bruce Betts: We move on to this week in space history, also a very busy week in space history, a few highlights, 1961, 60 years ago, John F. Kennedy gave the, We Should Land on the Moon Speech, that led to the Apollo program. Eight years later in 1969, Apollo 10 got to within about 16 kilometers of lunar surface that did a dry run without landing, but wait, don't order yet 2008, Phoenix Lander landed on Mars in the polar region. In 2010 Ikaros was launched, which became the first solar sail mission, a precursor to LightSail, and our first solar sail mission in a tiny spacecraft. It's a lot, there's so much, but I'll be short in the next segment. Random space fact on average.

Mat Kaplan: No, wait, wait, you can't just go on like that. I'm not even sure I can apply the right level of reverb to that. You got to hear this comment from Matthew Walter in Louisiana, does 950 episodes with Bruce mean that he's created a new random space facts, pronunciation 950 times. If so he deserves a metal, maybe we need an episode to explore this and other Planetary Radio lore, I don't know. I think you were in line for that Nobel for 950 pronunciations, but I think you blew it on this one.

Bruce Betts: Oh, I've ruined my chance.

Mat Kaplan: That's all right, Matthew would probably give it to you.

Bruce Betts: I can redo it. It was a different pronunciation, that was all that I really strive for.

Mat Kaplan: That's true. It was unique.

Bruce Betts: Well, so much for a short random space fact segment pick up time. But here's your short random space fact, on average Neptune is about 78 times farther from the sun than mercury.

Mat Kaplan: That's very good, on average, of course.

Bruce Betts: Mostly these Mercury's orbit is quite elliptical. Let's go on to the trivia contest. I asked you on Michael Collins, his second EVA, extra vehicular activity, and this was on Gemini 10, by the way. What did he collect from the Agena Target Vehicle? And what unrelated item did he lose during that EVA? How did we do Mat?

Mat Kaplan: You tripped up so many people, but you laid it out for them, because you were looking for an unrelated item. And a lot of people came up with a related item to what he collected. Here's Steve Fairchild, our poet Laureate to give the correct answer. With Collins and Young safe on board at the launch, the Gemini 10 took a ride. They caught up in orbit and rendezvous food with it, Agena and parked close beside, while EVA floating, he pulled off the ferring and gathered the meatier pack. And yet when he entered attached to his tether, his camera didn't come back. That's what you were looking for, right?

Bruce Betts: That was indeed, lost the Hasselblad camera that he had, and a micrometeorite collectors. What he pulled off and brought back from the Agena Target Vehicle.

Mat Kaplan: Congratulations, Bird Caldwell in New York, long time listener, I think, but a better first time winner. Hasselblad, 70 millimeter camera, and I guess Collins was pretty broken up about that. He thought he'd gotten some pretty great good shots. Here's a bit of trivia from Bert, our winner. Do you know who the CapCom was during Gemini 10, Bruce?

Bruce Betts: They probably have multiple CapComs, but no, I do not.

Mat Kaplan: You're right. Probably it was multiple, right? Because they did shifts. Well, at least one of them was Buzz Aldrin.

Bruce Betts: Well, that make sense.

Mat Kaplan: We are going to send Bert a copy of Andy Weir's new novel, Project Hail Mary, that you heard me raving about two weeks ago, and I continue to rave, it is that good. And I'm hearing from some of you about how much you're enjoying the book, and those of you who were smart enough when we warned you that there'll be spoilers. Well now, once you've read the book, come back and listen to the interview, because it is great fun.

Mat Kaplan: Chris Mills in Virginia says I tried on an EVA suit during a space medicine course many years ago. It's amazing. The Collins could do any task at all. If I was up there, it probably had been an EVI, an extra vehicular inactive.

Bruce Betts: Well, they had trouble with a lot of especially those early suits that they did have trouble moving around.

Mat Kaplan: Just one more thing from Jean Lewin, another poet up in Washington, Michael Collins exited Gemini 10 on his second EVA, and brought with him a camera to take some shots along the way, returning to the capsule it was now nowhere in sight, only the S10 collector filled with micrometeorites. If you're out in space one day and this Hasselblad floats by, take it to the Fotomat and get some three by fives. What was the last time you heard anybody mentioned Fotomat?

Bruce Betts: Long enough that I had to think about it for a second. I just thought I'd fill in that, indeed they lost another collector that floated out of the cabin, but that was a meteorite collector pulled off the actual Gemini capsule, not from the Agena Target Vehicle. And indeed, that is why I said unrelated. All right, what is the most massive star? Massive. What is the most massive star within 10 light years of earth? Go to contest.

Mat Kaplan: Wow. I know that there are some big, big boys out there, but within 10 light years, interesting limits set on this one. You have until the 26th, that'd be May 26th at 8:00 AM Pacific Time. And we're going back to the Planet Radio T-Shirt, our good buddies at who designed it, and work with us because that's where the Planetary Society Store is. They pointed out that they got some of these in inventory. We're going to have one for the winner of this contest, and we may give these way for a few more weeks. They are very stylish. I know you feel that way, because I saw you wearing one in a Zoom session yesterday.

Bruce Betts: That is so true. I wear mine every day.

Mat Kaplan: Oh, that's good to know. And I'm glad we run a Zoom session. Say goodnight Bruce.

Bruce Betts: Goodnight Bruce. All right, everybody go out there, and look up the night sky, and think about what shirt you would wear every day. Thank you, and good night.

Mat Kaplan: You won me over Planetary Radio T-Shirt. Got to be.

Bruce Betts: Yes.

Mat Kaplan: He's Bruce Betts, the chief scientist of the Planetary Society, who joined us every week here for What's Up. Bruce wants you to know that there is much more about the upcoming lunar eclipse at We'll also put a link on this week show page Planetary Radio is produced by the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and it's made possible by its members who sometimes feel like they're flying the friendly skies of Mars. Your ticket awaits at Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser. Ad Astra.