NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter sets new distance record on the Red Planet

black-and-white photo of a small drone's shadow on sandy, pebble-studded ground.
NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter acquired this image of its own shadow during its 69th Red Planet flight, which occurred on Dec. 20, 2023. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter set a new Mars record last month, by the skin of its robotic teeth.

The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity covered 2,315 feet (705 meters) of Red Planet ground on Dec. 20, according to the mission's flight log. The old mark was 2,310 feet (704 m), which the little chopper set in April 2022.

Ingenuity reached 22.4 mph (36 kph) during the Dec. 20 hop, tying its Martian speed record.

Related: Mars helicopter Ingenuity phones home, breaking 63-day silence

Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021. Ever since, the two robots have been exploring Mars' Jezero Crater, which harbored a lake and a river delta in the ancient past.

The car-sized Perseverance is searching for signs of past Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth, where the precious material can be analyzed in greater detail.

Ingenuity was designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere. The rotorcraft did that over the course of five flights in the spring of 2021. NASA then granted a mission extension, during which Ingenuity is serving as a scout for its larger cousin.

The chopper has now racked up 65 flights on its extended mission. The Dec. 20 hop was Ingenuity's 69th overall, and it followed that one up with another sortie on Dec. 22.

Ingenuity has covered a total of about 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) over its 70 Mars flights, according to the flight log. Perseverance has gone farther; its odometer currently reads 14.744 miles (23.729 km).

Impressive as that latter number is, it's not a Red Planet record: NASA's Opportunity rover racked up 28.06 miles (45.16 km) during its operational life on the Martian surface, which lasted from January 2004 to June 2018.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with 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.