Drones could cover more ground than a rover, but getting them to fly and operate on Mars won’t be an easy task.

Plenty of people who would love to go to Mars one day, but we’re still many years off before that kind of trip is even possible. Thankfully, we can send technology there with no problem, and with the world starting to get drone crazy, there are currently discussions about sending them to Mars.

Why drones? For starters, they could cover much more ground than a rover. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explained on their site that a tissue-box sized Mars Helicopter “could potentially triple the distance” that rovers currently drive in a Martian day. Plus, the helicopter would scout ahead of a rover to help “engineers back on Earth plan the best driving route.”

But flying a drone on Mars won’t be easy. Bob Balaram, a NASA engineer working on the Mars Helicopter, told the show “Crazy Engineering” that the rotor blades on the drones would have to spin at 2,400 RPM in order to provide lift in the low density of Mars’ atmosphere. In addition, the harsh environment could wear down technology that’s not built to take the extreme heat and cold. Finally, the drone needs to have the best landing system possible, which as Balaram mentions is “the riskiest part of any mission.”

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time a flying craft has been proposed for Mars exploration. Space.com points out that NASA “funded research into the idea of using an insectlike ‘entomopter’ for future Mars atmospheric exploration missions” several years ago.

Insectlike? Talk about the freakiest show!

Watch the “Crazy Engineering” interview with Bob Balaram below:


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Top illustration courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory