Mars 2020 Vision
Popular Science|Fall 2019

Mimi Aung was still a young girl when she learned a lesson that has defined her career at NASA.

John Kennedy

Struggling with a math problem, she sought guidance from her mother, who had a doctorate in the subject. She soon tired of Mom’s long explanation and demanded a quick answer. Aung vividly recalls the stern rebuke from the usually softspoken woman: “Never, never ask me for a shortcut.” No shortcuts. That’s a good rule for the electrical engineer leading the team behind the first autonomous drone destined for another world. When the Mars Helicopter arrives on the Red Planet in 2021, it will make five increasingly difficult flights and perhaps take some pictures.

NASA hopes to prove the technology works well enough to develop larger choppers that could collect samples, perform aerial surveys, and even ferry cargo on future missions. Such a machine could explore volcanoes and lava tubes, fly through canyons, and investigate other areas rovers can’t reach and probes can’t see.

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