NASA's Ingenuity helicopter breaks altitude record on 59th Mars flight

a shadow of a small drone is seen on sandy ground in a black-and-white photo.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter snapped this photo of its own shadow on Sept. 16, 2023, during its 59th Red Planet flight. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter keeps pushing the boundaries of off-Earth flight.

The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity aced its 59th Mars sortie on Saturday (Sept. 16), soaring higher than ever before in the process.

"Ingenuity has set a new record! The #MarsHelicopter successfully completed Flight 59, flying its highest altitude yet — 20 meters [66 feet]. The rotorcraft was in the air for 142.59 seconds," officials with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the helicopter's mission, posted on X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday (Sept. 19).

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

Flight 59 was a full hover; Ingenuity covered no horizontal distance during the hop, according to the mission's flight log.

Ingenuity landed with NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021 on the floor of the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater, which harbored a big lake and a river delta long ago. 

Perseverance is searching for signs of ancient Mars life inside Jezero and collecting samples that'll be returned to Earth in the future. Ingenuity is serving as a scout for the rover team, helping find good routes for Perseverance's travels and identifying promising science targets to investigate.

The rotorcraft is doing this work on an extended mission. Its primary mission aimed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere. Ingenuity completed that proof-of-concept assignment over the course of five flights a few months after touching down on the Red Planet, and then it just kept on flying. 

Over the course of its 59 flights, Ingenuity has traveled a total of 43,652 feet (13,304 m) and stayed aloft for 106.5 minutes, according to the flight log.

Before Flight 59, the helicopter's altitude mark stood at 59 feet (18 m). Its single-flight distance and duration records are 2,310 feet (704 m) and 169.5 seconds, set in April 2022 and August 2021, respectively.

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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.