NASA's small Ingenuity helicopter notched its 41st flight.
The Ingenuity drone made a quick flight out from its resting stop and then back again on Jan. 27, covering 600 feet (183 meters) in horizontal distance in just 109 seconds.
After the dust settled in Jezero Crater, Ingenuity returned to its resting area at "Airfield Beta," according to the mission's flight log. A timelapse of imagery captured midflight shows the helicopter's shadow dancing over sand dunes.
Ingenuity is the flying mission addition to NASA's car-sized Perseverance Mars rover. The rover touched down in February 2021 inside of Jezero, which had a huge ancient lake and river delta and is roughly 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide.
The rover has been busy itself in recent weeks during its search for signs of ancient Mars life in the region, dropping off 10 sample tubes as of Monday (Jan. 30). This is a backup cache of material, as Perseverance has twin samples from the various sites stashed in its belly. One of the set will be returned to Earth as early as 2033.
The prime plan will task Perseverance with ferrying the samples directly to a NASA lander that would ferry the load to orbit. Failing that, two fresh Ingenuity-type helicopters would serve as a relief team, nabbing samples upon the surface for return on a joint NASA/European Space Agency campaign.
However the samples are brought into the lander, it would next blast off to Mars orbit to meet up with a European probe. That spacecraft would bring the samples back to Earth. (Both the Mars lander and the European probe are expected to launch in the mid- to late 2020s.)
Ingenuity's 41st flight exceeds the technology demonstration manifest by eightfold, as the helicopter was originally tasked with just five flights. Before Ingenuity arrived, no human craft had ever flown on Mars in the planet's thin atmosphere.
The extended mission has allowed Ingenuity to scout ahead for Perseverance, echoing how future missions on Mars are expected to go. From the air, the helicopter allows scientists to look for interesting scientific targets or to find the best route for Perseverance to pick its way across Jezero's cratered and rocky landscape.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.