NASA's Ingenuity helicopter just completed a much more ambitious third flight. As Space.com reports, the Mars aircraft ventured about 164 feet north of its home base (slightly more than half the length of a football field) at a speed of about 4.5MPH. That may not sound like much, but Ingenuity only traveled 13 feet at 1.1MPH during its second flight — this was far enough that you almost have to squint to see Ingenuity in the photo above.
There are only two potential flights left before NASA winds down its efforts in early May and shifts focus to the Perserverance rover's main mission. Expect these to be exciting, though. Project manager Mimi Aung said the final two journeys should be "really adventurous" and test the limits of the flying machine.
The successes so far are already likely to have a significant impact on future Mars exploration. Ingenuity is proof that aircraft can fly on the planet despite its very low atmospheric density, and there's now a good chance that later missions will use drones to survey Mars from perspectives that simply weren't available before.
Third flight in the history books✅— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 25, 2021
Our #MarsHelicopter continues to set records, flying faster and farther. The space chopper is demonstrating critical capabilities that could enable the addition of an aerial dimension to future missions to Mars & beyond. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/Uaxrr23Rfh