NASA's Ingenuity helicopter keeps raising the bar for Red Planet flight.
The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity soared 46 feet (14 meters) above Mars' red dirt on Saturday (Dec. 3), setting a new altitude record on its 35th off-Earth flight.
An all-time high for the #MarsHelicopter!Ingenuity completed Flight 35 over the weekend and set a new max altitude record, hitting 46 ft (14 meters) above the Martian surface. See more stats in the flight log: https://t.co/7DMHj9LkNX pic.twitter.com/qAj5H9Z68CDecember 6, 2022
Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover on the floor of Jezero Crater in February 2021. The helicopter soon deployed from the rover's belly and embarked on a campaign to show that powered flight is possible in the thin Mars atmosphere.
That initial technology-demonstrating phase lasted less than a month and consisted of just five sorties. But NASA soon granted Ingenuity a mission extension, keeping the rotorcraft flying. Its current objectives center on pushing the envelope of Red Planet flight and performing reconnaissance for Perseverance.
The rover is searching for signs of ancient Mars life on the floor of the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero, which hosted a lake and a river delta billions of years ago. Perseverance is also collecting and caching a series of samples, which a joint NASA-European Space Agency campaign will return to Earth, perhaps as early as 2033.
Saturday's flight was the first for Ingenuity since Nov. 22 and just the second it has performed since a major software update. That update, which took several weeks to install, "provides Ingenuity two major new capabilities: hazard avoidance when landing and the use of digital elevation maps to help navigate," mission team members wrote in a blog post late last month.
Ingenuity covered about 49 feet (15 m) of horizontal distance on Saturday's flight, which lasted 52 seconds. The helicopter has now traveled a total of 24,302 feet (7,407 m) and stayed aloft for 59.9 minutes on its 35 Mars sorties, according to the mission flight log.
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 and on Facebook.