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From the sand dunes of the Outer Banks to the Red Planet.

By Meghan Overdeep
March 25, 2021
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More than 117 years after its historic journey over the dunes of Kill Devil Hills in 1903, a postage-size swatch of muslin from the Wright Flyer is headed for the history books once more.

A little piece of the Wright brothers' first airplane is currently on Mars. If all goes according to plan, it will make history again—this time millions of miles from the Outer Banks as part of the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

A small amount of the material that covered the bottom left wing of the Wright brothers' aircraft during the first flight is now aboard Ingenuity, the experimental Martian helicopter affixed to NASA's Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18.

The piece of muslin was provided by Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio, where the Wright Brothers National Museum is located. It will make the 300-million-mile journey to Mars with the blessing of the Wright brothers' great-grandniece and great-grandnephew, Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright.

Orville Wright flying a glider at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA, 10 October 1902.
Credit: Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images

"Wilbur and Orville Wright would be pleased to know that a little piece of their 1903 Wright Flyer I, the machine that launched the Space Age by flying barely one quarter of a mile, is going to soar into history again on Mars!" they said in a statement.

"The Perseverance Mission Team has pushed the boundary of the Wrights achievement propelling humanity toward a future two self-taught engineers from Dayton, Ohio could scarcely imagine," they continued. "This is truly a milestone for science and engineering that the Wright Brothers would be proud to be a part of. Well done to all!"

NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Mars
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

According to Carillon Historical Park, this isn't the first time a fragment of the Wright Flyer has made its way to outer space. In 1969, the Wright family gave Neil Armstrong a piece of the 1903 flyer fabric and a small splinter of wood to take with him to the Moon. John Glenn was also given a piece of the fabric for his 1998 trip on Space Shuttle Discovery.

For the Wright Flyer's latest symbolic journey, an insulative tape was used to wrap the priceless swatch of fabric around a cable located underneath Ingenuity's solar panel.

NASA's four-pound helicopter will attempt to rise 10 feet into the thin Martian air on its first flight. Increasingly higher and longer flights are planned over the course of a month.

Bon voyage, Ingenuity!