NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has been flying on Mars for nearly two years now, and it's still breaking records.
Ingenuity flew faster and higher than it ever had before on its most recent Red Planet sortie, which occurred on Sunday (April 2).
The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper reached a top speed of 14.5 mph (23.3 kph) and a maximum altitude of 52.5 feet (16 meters) on Sunday, according to the mission's flight log. The previous records were 13.4 mph (21.6 kph) and 46 feet (14 m), respectively.
Two new records for the #MarsHelicopter! Ingenuity successfully completed Flight 49, setting a new flight speed record of 14.5 mph (6.5 m/s) and an altitude record of 52.5 ft (16 meters). See more stats: https://t.co/7DMHj9LkNX pic.twitter.com/Od4jXGS8QEApril 3, 2023
Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021. On April 19 of that year, Ingenuity took to the Red Planet skies for the first time, executing a 39-second hover that covered no horizontal distance.
The little chopper conducted four more flights over the following few weeks, acing its technology-demonstrating primary mission, which aimed to show that powered aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the thinness of the planet's atmosphere.
And then Ingenuity just kept on flying, on an extended mission during which it's serving as a scout for the life-hunting, sample-collecting Perseverance. Sunday's sortie was the 49th for Ingenuity, and flight 50 is likely just around the corner.
Over the course of its 49 Mars flights to date, Ingenuity has stayed aloft for a total of 86.7 minutes and covered 6.974 miles (11.224 km) of Red Planet ground, according to the flight log. Perseverance's odometer, meanwhile, currently reads 10.67 miles (17.17 km).
The 28-mile-wide (45 km) Jezero hosted a lake and a river delta in the ancient past, which is the main reason that NASA picked the crater for Perseverance's mission.
The rover is collecting dozens of samples that will be returned to Earth by a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2033.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.