Whirlybird Wonder

“Ginny”

If you haven’t been following the dog-and-pony pony-and-dog show taking place on Mars the last couple of months, you might want to break out the telescope. Not that you’ll be able to see a car-sized rover or a toy-sized helicopter from millions of miles away. But you can see Mars itself, and then you can imagine “Percy” and “Ginny” sniffing around the red dirt and rocks up there. They’re just sampling things to see if Mars can roll out the welcome mat to humans someday.

The rover “Perseverance” is the pony in this show; “Ingenuity” the dog. I want to talk about the dog. Last July Percy hitched a nine-month ride to Mars, launching from Florida’s Cape Canaveral aboard a massive Atlas V rocket. Little Ginny hitched a ride on Percy; she the steadfast little soldier clinging to the rover’s underbelly. Considering Ginny measures only a few feet in all dimensions, it must’ve been a hang-on-for-dear-life E-ticket kind of adventure.

I’d love to make this a children’s story, but Ginny is anything but soft and cuddly. Have a look. She’s about as cute as a wasp. Consider Martian atmosphere is only 1/100th as dense as that of Earth, which means Ginny has virtually nothing to grab onto to sustain flight. But she whirls at five times the rate of a regular helicopter (2,400 rpm!), and then she rises.  Product safety warning: don’t go anywhere near Ginny’s rotor blades.

Ten days ago Ginny lifted off Mars to a skyscraping height of ten feet.  Then she hovered briefly before rotating about ninety degrees, kind of just observing the Mars-scape.  Finally, she landed.  The whole exercise lasted less than forty seconds.  Big deal, right?  Well, that little maneuver qualified Ginny as “the first powered controlled flight by an aircraft on a planet besides Earth”. Way to go, little wasp.  You just reserved a spot in the Smithsonian after you return home.

Will Ginny end up here?

When I picture Ginny clinging to the rover Percy, then hurtling through outer space for months on end, my middle-aged mind recalled the old Thunderbirds television show.  Thunderbirds featured the Tracy family (marionettes!) and their fleet of wicked-cool space vehicles.  The five Thunderbirds included a giant green supersonic carrier (“Thunderbird Two”), whose massive belly carried a yellow utility submersible (“Thunderbird Four”).  Kind of like Percy carried Ginny.  Trust me young(er) readers, Thunderbirds was awesome television in the 1960s… even if it was just puppets getting their strings pulled.

I’ve ridden in a helicopter exactly once in my life, on our honeymoon over the Napali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.  I turned to my bride mid-flight and probably uttered some not-so-nice words as I remembered how much I dislike heights.  The glass of champagne beforehand certainly helped.  For me, the fear has always been a toss-up between vertigo (physical) or the idea that terra firma is far, far below me (mental).  No matter the reason, heights just aren’t my cup of tea.

My acrophobia probably goes back to my first ride on a Ferris Wheel, with adolescent nightmares of slipping through the metal lap bar and taking an unplanned skydive.  Or ski lifts, where a little bit of fiddling with the lap bar latch could mean the end of everything.  Parasailing? (No).  Hang-gliding? (Never).  Hot-air balloons? (Why even ask?).  Sorry – airplanes aside, and only the bigger ones mind you – I prefer my thrills securely grounded.

For all the recent broadcast news on Percy and Ginny, I can’t seem to find the part of the story where Ginny returns to Percy, who then returns to the Atlas V rocket, who then returns to Earth.  I’m looking for the part about splashdowns and photo ops and ticker-tape parades – the happy-ending kind of stuff.  My earlier comment about a spot in the Smithsonian may have been a little premature (can you say, “Ginny replica”?).  Note to reader: if you do decide to make this a children’s story you might want to edit things a bit.  Just say our little pony and dog are now asleep on Mars, waiting for their human friends to get there someday.  It sounds much better than, “we just left them there”.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

16 thoughts on “Whirlybird Wonder

  1. Interesting… I have to be honest, I haven’t been keeping up with this. For some reason, I don’t have a big interest in Mars. Well, UNTIL one day when you might write that you are headed to Mars. Then my ears will PERK up.

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      1. Pretty sure I wouldn’t be any better with g-forces but I’ll pack an airsickness bag just in case. BTW, I can still hear the distinctive “WHIP-P-P-P” of a Jetson car. Somebody gets an A+ for sound effects.

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  2. I haven’t been following the story in any depth, but now you have me wondering….are they just going to leave it there, to die alone and forgotten….

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    1. Wouldn’t it be sad to learn they never intended Percy and Ginny to be able to return? It sounds so, so… heartless. Even for mechanical things. We will know soon enough…

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  3. I don’t like helicopter rides either, but this does have the all the makings for a good children’s story. You could also end the story, “and Percy and Ginny had many more wonderful adventures …”

    Don’t need to mention the adventure of never coming home.

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    1. Excellent idea! (and an underrated candy bar). In my 1970s dreams of owning a Pacer, I would’ve filled the glove compartment with “Pacers”, those weird square mint chews similar to Starburst. Never happened.

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  4. My favorite meteorologist was posting little videos about this Mars extravaganza – he was very excited about it, so I learned a little from him. And more from this post. I was on a carnival ride back when I was 8 or 9. It was a Whirly-bird or something that you were occasionally upside down plus spinning around during the course of the ride. I went with a friend of mine and one of her parents. Halfway through the ride, there were mechanical difficulties, the ride was halted and we were stuck upside down for about an hour. They could have had the fire department rescue each of us I suppose, but the carnival operator kept saying “hang in there kids – it’ll be fixed in a few minutes.” I went on a roller coaster with high school friends on a class outing – never again. Too many twists and turns- I imagined getting off the ride with whiplash.

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  5. Your childhood experience would be my worst nightmare, Linda. Me, my stomach, and upside-down don’t get along so well. I’m fine on a roller coaster because you get the heights over with in a hurry. But I’m not fine when a Ferris wheel stops with my car in the uppermost position. It’s a subtle difference, but over many years I’ve learned with which carnival rides to say “no”.

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  6. That’s the problem with governments – they never want to pick up their toys when they’ve finished playing. If a random Martian comes along and cuts his finger on that spinney thing, someone’s in trouble.

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