JPL-CALTECH/NASA/The New York Times/Redux

Many years ago, I was at a book signing and someone asked me, “Hey, why can’t we explore Mars with aircraft?” I said, “Because the air is too thin. That’s just the worst idea ever.” Well, I wasn’t quite that rude—but that’s what I was thinking.

Yet on April 19, the Ingenuity helicopter made its historic first flight on Mars. So that shows you what I know. Countless engineers and scientists worked on the project, but the effort was directed by MiMi Aung. She briefed President Joe Biden on the flight shortly after. No big deal, right? Making a helicopter fly in the planet’s low atmospheric pressure is no small feat, especially considering it has to pilot itself—communication latency between Earth and Mars makes direct control impossible. But MiMi and her team were able to make it happen, and it will pave the way for more rapid Mars exploration in the future.

Weir is an author whose novels include The Martian and Project Hail Mary

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