Mars 'flying saucer' vehicle splashes into Pacific after NASA test high in Earth's atmosphere
Saturday, June 28, 2014, 6:38 PM -
A saucer-shaped vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth's atmosphere has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, completing a successful test of technology that could be used to land on Mars.
After several weather delays, the attempt off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai will test the disc-shaped vehicle and a giant parachute.
The $150 million experimental flight Saturday tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts.
The parachute did not fully deploy but NASA still deemed the mission a success.
After taking off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Hawaii, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the ocean. Its rocket motor carried the vehicle to 55 kilometres high, where the environment was similar to the thin Martian atmosphere.
As the vehicle dropped back to Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down.
Since the 1970s, NASA has used the same parachute design to slow landers and rovers as they streak through the thin Martian atmosphere. With plans to send heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts, the space agency needs a much stronger parachute.
NASA is testing the technology high in Earth's atmosphere because conditions there are similar to that of Mars.
High winds at the Kauai military range forced NASA to miss its original two-week launch window in June.
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With files from NASA and The Associated Press