Exploring Mars with Ingenuity

By Travis West, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Vinton County

Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Challenge is in full swing this week with the activities in the challenge kit. The kit is still available to order, but in the meantime, you can still explore Mars with activities listed on the Ohio 4-H page at http://go.osu.edu/marsbasecamp.

We have heard a lot about the Mars Rover Perseverance that was launched on July 30, 2020, and is set to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. You can follow the trek of Perseverance in real-time at https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.

Scientists attached a helicopter to the belly of Perseverance to collect information once it lands on Mars. This helicopter is named Ingenuity and is another way to provide pictures, videos, and a sampling of Mars’ atmosphere and landscape. Once it arrives with Perseverance, Ingenuity will be the first powered flight to occur on Mars.

We can engineer our own helicopter with a few simple supplies:

  • 1 large marshmallow
  • 4 small marshmallows
  • 5 toothpicks
  • scissors
  • 1 piece of cardstock (copier paper might work but the thicker paper is ideal. Paper is for printing the last page of the lesson plan from the link below.)

Follow the step-by-step instructions in the lesson plan, keeping in mind a few goals for your helicopter design. These are the same goals the designers of Ingenuity had to keep in mind.

Activity Tips

  • The structure must be light, yet strong
  • Should fly for 90 seconds to provide valuable data
  • Drop your helicopter from 6-8 ft above the floor and see how long it stays in the air!

Remember, engineers made thousands of designs before they achieved the final design that is now on its way to Mars! Once you have that first successful design, think about items that have different weights and how you decrease the weight or increase the time in the air. Redesigning is the name of the game when you are searching for the most effective design in engineering.

Perseverance and Ingenuity are just two efforts to explore Mars and prepare for NASA’s future goal of human exploration on Mars. These efforts are providing valuable information to another human exploration goal, returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024.

Lesson Plan:

Build your own Mars Helicopter


Peer-Reviewed: Sally McClaskey, OSU Extension Program Manager, Education & Marketing. She develops and directs educational programs at the Nationwide & Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center.

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