The DownlinkApr 23, 2021

A Tiny Spacecraft Makes a Huge Leap with a Short Flight

Space Snapshot

Perseverance ingenuity selfie

NASA’s Perseverance rover took this selfie with Ingenuity in the background just a few days before the tiny Mars helicopter took flight. Is it just us, or does Perseverance look proud of its tiny ’copter companion? Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Even with lower gravity, flying on Mars is not easy. The Martian atmosphere is about 1/100 the density of Earth's, creating flight conditions similar to 30,000 meters (100,000 feet) above Earth, an altitude that has never been reached by helicopters.

Mission Briefings

Ingenuity first flight shadow

NASA’s Ingenuity has hovered its way into history. On April 19, the little Martian helicopter accomplished a huge feat, becoming the first aircraft to complete a powered, controlled flight on another planet. Ingenuity rose 3 meters (10 feet) in the air and remained suspended for 30 seconds before landing back on the Red Planet. Ingenuity followed up with a second, higher flight on April 22. All in all, mission lead Mimi Aung had good reason to celebrate. Pictured: Ingenuity took this photo of its own shadow while hovering over the Martian surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing for Bill Nelson, who President Biden recently nominated for NASA administrator. If he’s confirmed, the former Florida senator and payload specialist would become one of only a handful of NASA admins who’ve actually been to space: in 1986, he spent six days on board the Space Shuttle Columbia.


Russia may withdraw from the ISS to build its own space station. Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin told AFP that the country is currently developing a first core module that could be ready to launch in 2025. The Russian space agency has reportedly not yet reached a final decision on whether or not to remain ISS partners at or after that time.


NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her crewmates are safely back on Earth. On April 17, Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov touched down in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, after spending 185 days on board the International Space Station. Rubins—who became the first person to sequence DNA in space on her last mission aboard the ISS—spent hundreds of hours working on heart and microbiology experiments that could help future astronauts.


Four astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station after another successful SpaceX launch. The Crew-2 mission blasted off in a Crew Dragon capsule in the early morning on April 23. The Falcon 9 rocket plumes created a dramatic effect, like streamers in the sky—a perfect way to celebrate the occasion.

From The Planetary Society

Mars terraformed
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Is terraforming Mars possible with the technology we have today? Humans have long contemplated establishing settlements on the Red Planet. Would it be possible to turn that hostile planet into a hospitable world like our own? Planetary Society contributing editor Jatan Mehta takes a closer look at some terraforming ideas. Pictured: An artist’s impression of how Mars might look after terraforming. Image credit: Alamy images.

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In the meantime, NASA and SpaceX are taking steps to get humans to Mars. NASA recently selected SpaceX’s Starship as the lunar lander for its Artemis program. This agreement applies to missions to the Moon, but the implications extend even further: to Mars. The partnership is an investment in the Starship program itself, providing SpaceX with a cash infusion for the same technology and systems it needs to get to the Red Planet—a true “Moon-to-Mars” strategy if there ever was one.

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‘Oumuamua remains an intriguing mystery, but scientists have a new theory about its origins. Two Arizona State University researchers have come up with a fascinating explanation for the first known interstellar object to visit our solar system: it’s a piece of a Pluto-like exoplanet. Tune in to this week’s Planetary Radio to hear their ideas firsthand.

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With a new administration, power shifts in Congress, and changing priorities across the United States, advocacy for planetary science and exploration has never been more important. The Planetary Society’s policy and advocacy leadership recently took part in a special members-only webinar to survey the current space policy environment and highlight the actions we are taking to make science and exploration a priority. Watch the discussion and help make more of this kind of work possible by supporting our space policy and advocacy program today.

What's Up

Saturn illustration

Mars still shines fairly bright and red in the western evening sky, forming a triangle with the stars Aldebaran and Betelgeuse. In the predawn look for Jupiter and Saturn in the east. Learn more at

Earthlings vs Asteroids: What’s The Score?

Pdc public event poster

How prepared are we to defend our planet from asteroids? Join us on April 29, 2021 to find out. We’ll be speaking with some of the world’s leading experts about the asteroids we’ve discovered, how prepared we are to prevent an impact, and what still needs to be done. Watch this free virtual event with us on Facebook, YouTube, and at

Wow of the Week

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Ingenuity’s successful flight on Mars was made possible because of the contributions of thousands of people, many of whom didn’t even know it. Nearly 12,000 people on the code hosting platform GitHub contributed to open source software that ended up being used on Ingenuity. To celebrate this amazing feat of collaboration, GitHub added a special badge to the profiles of users who contributed to that software’s development. Pictured: This illustration by artist Ariel Davis captures the unseen elements of the first successful Mars ’copter. You can find more of her work on her Instagram account.