Homeless in Vancouver: NASA’s Mars Helicopter may not be a nod to the da Vinci quincentenary (but it should be)

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      I have nothing sciency to say about NASA’s Mars Helicopter, other than it has reportedly entered final testing ahead of being deployed to the red planet July 17, 2020, as part of the U.S. space agency’s Mars 2020 mission.

      Rather, I wish to point out something arty.

      I’m referring to the undeniable visual similarity between Nasa’s Mars-bound copter (properly called the Mars Helicopter Scout) and the helicopter famously sketched by the Italian Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci, circa 1493—some 450 years before the actual invention of the helicopter in the 1940s.

      Any similarity with 400-year-old helicopters is purely coincidental

      NASA Mars Helicopter Scout, which is headed for the red planet next year as part of the Mars 2020 mission.
      NASA/JPL-Caltech

      Admittidly NASA’s design for the Mars Helicopter Scout uses two contra-rotating propellers, while Da Vinci’s speculative craft employed a cloth-and-frame aerial screw.

      But the former still strongly echoes the form of the latter, right down to the triangle of the pyramidal base.

      eonardo Da Vinci’s famous sketch of an aerial screw helicopter, made, circa 1493.

      And this year does mark the quincentennial, or 500th anniversary, of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, on May 2, 1519, in Amboise, France.

      It would be altogether fitting for NASA scientists and engineers to do something like this—both symbolic and practical—to mark the important anniversary associated with one of the acknowledged visionary forerunners of the practice of both theoretical and applied sciences.

      However, I can do no better than Popular Science did in 2018, when it contrived to make a slim historical connection between the da Vinci and NASA copters.

      Sadly, there is no evidence whatsoever that NASA had any thought to honour Leonardo da Vinci with the design of its Mars Helicopter Scout.

      Any similarity with da Vinci’s 500-plus-year-old design is either purely coincidental and/or a case of great minds thinking alike.

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.

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