Balaram discusses historic flights

Published 9:27 pm Saturday, August 27, 2022

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In addition to several National Aviation Day activities in Manteo, Dr. J. “Bob” Balaram, chief engineer of the Mars Ingenuity project, made a presentation Friday morning, August 19 to a large audience at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

The originator of the Mars project in 2013, Balaram detailed a number of similarities between the 1903 first powered flight that took place a few feet away and the first flight on Mars some 140 million miles away. His talk, punctuated with slides and videos, gave graphic detail to the project’s evolution that made space exploration history April 19, 2021, when the helicopter lifted off and flew over the surface of Mars. It was the first machine from Earth to ever fly on another planet.

Interrupted at times from the overwhelming sounds of planes flying overhead, Balaram said he was inspired by the Wright Brothers’ achievements while touring the Park Service site several years ago.

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According to Balaram, the Ingenuity helicopter has made 29 flights so far with another one scheduled to take place soon. An important feature of the helicopter is its ability to send back high quality, detailed images of the Red Planet. Once reviewed, those images are used to determine where the Perseverance Rover that successfully landed on the Mars surface in February 2021 should be programmed to search.

While answering questions from the crowd, Balaram explained that even though the device was not designed to operate during winter months – the stage Mars is in right now – it continues to become active daily after dying each night due to the extreme cold.

He noted also that another link between the 1903 flight and the one on Mars is that a small piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer was carefully incorporated into the Ingenuity project helicopter.

Following his 11 a.m. talk, a demonstration of the Ingenuity helicopter model took place in the Wright Brothers National Memorial visitor center.

National Aviation Day was initiated by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 on Orville Wright’s birthday for the nation to celebrate the growth and advancements being made in aviation.  The 1903 first flight is celebrated each December 17 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.