NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter flew yet again on Thursday (Feb. 16), covering more Red Planet ground than it had on a single sortie in nearly a year.
The flight was the 43rd overall (opens in new tab) for the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity, which landed on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater with the Perseverance rover in February 2021.
This latest hop covered 1,280 feet (390 meters) of Red Planet ground, according to Ingenuity's flight log (opens in new tab). Ingenuity hadn't flown that far since April 29, 2022, when it traveled 1,371 feet (418 m) across Jezero's floor.
Related: Mars rover Perseverance spots Ingenuity helicopter resting on sand dune (photo)
Ingenuity has completed Flight 43 – its longest flight in nearly a year! 🎉The #MarsHelicopter traveled 1,280 ft (390 m) across the Martian surface for 145.99 seconds at a max. altitude of 40 ft (12 m). https://t.co/1CXIWdYIAQ pic.twitter.com/wxSVvSRcaNFebruary 16, 2023
That April 29 hop didn't set a record, however; Ingenuity's longest-ever flight occurred three weeks earlier, on April 8, when the little robot put 2,310 feet (710 m) on its odometer.
During its 43 Mars flights to date, Ingenuity has covered a total of 28,968 feet (8,829 m), according to the mission flight log — nearly 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers). That's quite impressive for a technology demonstration that was originally supposed to fly just five times on the Red Planet.
Ingenuity long ago transitioned out of that original mission. The rotorcraft is now serving as a scout for Perseverance, which is searching for signs of past Mars life and collecting and caching dozens of samples for future return to Earth.
Jezero is a great place to do such work, mission team members have said: The 28-mile-wide (45 km) crater hosted a big lake and a river delta billions of years ago.
Perseverance recently finished setting up a backup sample cache in a patch of Jezero that the rover team calls Three Forks. The 10 tubes in the Three Forks depot will be collected by Ingenuity-like helicopters late this decade if Perseverance isn't healthy enough to deliver its onboard samples to a rocket-toting lander itself. That rocket will blast the samples to Mars orbit, where a spacecraft will snag them and haul them back to Earth, perhaps as early as 2033 — a sample-return campaign that NASA will undertake with the European Space Agency.
Perseverance is now beginning to climb up Jezero's ancient delta formation, to explore this different and intriguing environment. The rover has put 9.05 miles (14.57 km) on its odometer since touching down, according to mission team members (opens in new tab).
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) or Facebook (opens in new tab).