▶ Watch Video: Perseverance rover, Ingenuity helicopter, and the search for ancient life on Mars

Ingenuity, the Mars helicopter that works to learn about conditions on the red planet, broke a new record for altitude while completing a milestone 50th flight. 

NASA said on Thursday that during its 50th flight, the helicopter traveled over a thousand feet in about two and a half minutes. The craft flew at a height of 59 feet before approaching Mars’ half-mile wide “Belva Crater.” NASA said the helicopter was navigating hazardous terrain and was planning to perform a repositioning flight before exploring the “Fall River Pass,” a region near the planet’s Jerezo Crater, which researchers think once held water. These missions cover new ground and capture images that allow teams at NASA to demonstrate how aircraft could help on future missions. 

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in the news release announcing the flight

An earlier image of the Ingenuity helicopter resting on the surface of Mars after release from the Perseverance rover.


Ingenuity landed on Mars in February 2021, alongside the Mars Perseverance Rover. April 19 will mark the two-year anniversary of its first flight. The helicopter was originally meant to do no more than five flights, but has become a more active piece of technology that has proved that powered, controlled flight is possible on Mars. Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the helicopter has exceeded its expected cumulative flight time by 1,250% and its expected distance by 2,214%. 

“We are not in Martian Kansas anymore,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in the news release. “We’re flying over the dried-up remnants of an ancient river that is filled with sand dunes, boulders, and rocks, and surrounded by hills that could have us for lunch. And while we recently upgraded the navigation software onboard to help determine safe airfields, every flight is still a white-knuckler.”

While the copter is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, Tzanetos said, it’s not clear when its mission will come to an end. 

“We have come so far, and we want to go farther,” said Tzanetos. “But we have known since the very beginning our time at Mars was limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether Ingenuity’s mission ends tomorrow, next week, or months from now is something no one can predict at present. What I can predict is that when it does, we’ll have one heck of a party.”