NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter nearly set another record last week.
The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) Ingenuity, the first robot ever to explore the skies of a world beyond Earth, made its 68th Red Planet flight on Friday (Dec. 15).
The little chopper covered 2,304 feet (702 meters) of Mars ground on Friday, according to the mission's flight log. That's just 6 feet (1.8 m) shy of Ingenuity's distance record of 2,310 feet (704 m), which was set in April 2022, on its 25th flight.
The original plan called for Flight 68 to break the record by quite a bit; Ingenuity was supposed to cover 2,717 feet (828 m) of ground, mission team members wrote in a preview on Dec. 8.
It's unclear why Ingenuity didn't hit that mark, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the helicopter's mission, released a post on X (formerly Twitter) today (Dec. 19) celebrating Flight 68 and didn't mention any problems.
Ingenuity landed on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater with NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021, tasked with showing that aerial exploration is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere.
The little rotorcraft did just that over the course of five flights during the spring of 2021, then was granted an extended mission that continues to this day. Ingenuity is now serving as a scout for Perseverance, which is hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth.
Friday's flight achieved a top speed of 22.4 mph (36 kph), according to the flight log. That mark tied Ingenuity's velocity record, which was set this past October. The hop lasted 131 seconds — 16 seconds fewer than originally planned — and took the chopper a maximum of 52 feet (16 m) above Mars' red dirt.
Those latter two figures didn't set new records; Ingenuity has soared as high as 79 feet (24 m) and stayed aloft for 169.5 seconds at a time, according to flight log.
Over the course of its 68 Mars flights, Ingenuity has racked up a total of 123.3 minutes of air time and covered about 10 miles (16 kilometers) of ground.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. EST on Dec. 19 with the results of Flight 68.
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com 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.