Mars helicopter Ingenuity aces 36th Red Planet flight

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter captured this photo on Dec. 10, 2022, during its 36th Red Planet flight.
(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter now has three dozen Mars flights under its belt.

The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity aced its 36th Red Planet sortie on Sunday (Dec. 10), staying aloft for 60.5 seconds on a flight that covered 361 feet (110 meters) of horizontal distance.

Sunday's hop came just a week after Ingenuity set a new altitude record, soaring 46 feet (14 m) above the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater on Dec. 3. The chopper got a maximum of 33 feet (10 m) above the red dirt this past Sunday, according to the mission's flight log (opens in new tab).

Related: Soar over Mars rover tracks with Ingenuity helicopter (video)

Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021, tasked with showing that powered flight is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere.

The helicopter aced that primary objective during a five-flight campaign in the spring of 2021. Ingenuity then shifted into an extended mission during which it's pushing the boundaries of Red Planet flight and serving as a scout for Perseverance.

The rover, meanwhile, is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting dozens of samples. If all goes according to plan, this Mars material will be returned to Earth by a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign, perhaps as early as 2033.

According to Ingenuity's flight log, the rotorcraft has traveled a total of 24,633 feet (7,517 m) across its 36 sorties and has stayed airborne for nearly 61 minutes.

Perseverance is even more well-traveled. The car-sized rover has trekked a total of 8.53 miles (13.73 km) (opens in new tab) on the floor of Jezero, which harbored a lake and a river delta billions of years ago.

That's far from the rover record, however. NASA's Opportunity Mars rover put 28.06 miles (48.15 km) miles on its odometer while exploring the Red Planet from 2004 to 2018 — farther than any other robot has traveled on the surface of a world beyond Earth.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab)

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.