Surrounded by NASA stickers and posters, consuming one-day-only Mars-style Krispy Kreme doughnuts, students and faculty at Tuscaloosa County High School celebrated a connection to the Mars rover landing, 293 million miles away, tucked right up under Perseverance's belly.
TCHS student Vaneeza Rupani suggested the name Ingenuity for a tiny helicopter hitchhiking along with Perseverance on the journey, which launched July 30, 2020, with confirmation of touchdown on Mars at 2:55 p.m. Central time on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Rupani's suggestion was chosen from essays submitted by 28,000 students who entered a NASA contest to name the 2,263-pound robotic geologist and astrobiologist, as well as its little friend, who will test the first man-powered flight on another planet.
"The ingenuity and brilliance of people working hard to overcome the challenges of interplanetary travel are what allow us all to experience the wonders of space exploration," Rupani wrote, in the essay submission. "Ingenuity is what allows people to accomplish amazing things, and it allows us to expand our horizons to the edges of the universe."
Krispy Kreme's limited-edition Mars doughnut — a chocolate cream-filled confection, dipped in caramel icing, decorated with a red-planet swirl, and sprinkled with cookie crumbs — sold out fast on the day Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater, but the Southern-born, internationally known bakers of "Hot Now" products delivered boxes to TCHS for the school's viewing party.
While the larger rover, with its lasers, X-rays and cameras collects samples from Jezero's ancient lakebed and river delta, testing for the presence of microbial life on Mars, Ingenuity will take to the dusty, 95-percent carbon-dioxide air to provide wider vistas. Its mission will begin in spring, and be conducted over a 30-Martian-day experimental window.
Assuming success, Ingenuity could expand NASA's exploration dimensions. Future helicopters could serve as scouts, or deliver supplies to astronauts away from their base.