Watch NASA's first Mars drone flight make history

The twin-rotor whirligig's debut on the Red Planet marked a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment for NASA, which said success could pave the way for new modes of exploration onMars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus and Saturn's moon Titan.

A black-and-white photo taken by a downward-pointing onboard camera while the helicopter was aloft showed the distinct shadow cast by Ingenuity in the Martian sunlight onto the ground just below it.

Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as engineering data beamed back from Mars confirmed that the 4-pound solar-powered helicopter had performed its maiden 40-second flight precisely as planned three hours earlier.

The robot rotorcraft was programmed to ascend 10 feet straight up, then hover and rotate in place over the Martian surface for half a minute before settling back down on its four legs.