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Before humans make it to Mars, NASA will send a helicopter to scope out the terrain.

Engineers attached a helicopter to the Mars 2020 rover ahead of its launch next summer. And if it flies successfully, it’ll be the first aircraft to fly on another planet, NASA said.

The solar-powered Mars Helicopter will be safely stowed underneath the rover until it lands at the Jezero Crater, where scientists believe water once flowed. The craft will detach from the rover and explore Mars from the air while the rover collects samples on the ground, NASA said.

If the helicopter flies, it can provide a unique vantage point for scientists to observe Mars.
PHOTO: NASA/JPL-Caltech
If the helicopter flies, it can provide a unique vantage point for scientists to observe Mars.

If all goes well, the autonomous aircraft will snapshot aerial views of Martian cliffs, caves and craters that the land-bound rover can’t explore. And even if it doesn’t take flight, the rover can still gather important data from the surface.

NASA said it hopes the helicopter will eventually carry tools around the planet and guide astronauts when they arrive.

The rover launches in July 2020, and it won’t arrive at the Jezero Crater until February 18, 2021. But if the helicopter soars, it’ll provide never-before-seen views of the Red Planet.