Heads-up! NASA to test giant Mars parachute in Hawaii
Sunday, June 1, 2014, 9:14 PM -
The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet.
For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbour using the same parachute design. But NASA needs a bigger and stronger parachute if it wants to send astronauts there.
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Weather permitting, a high-altitude balloon will carry the test vehicle Tuesday from the Hawaiian island of Kauai to 37 kilometres over the Pacific where it will be dropped. Then the vehicle will fire its rocket and climb to 55 kilometres. The environment at this altitude is similar to Mars' thin atmosphere.
As the vehicle falls to Earth, a giant parachute should pop out and guide it to an ocean landing.
Cameras rigged aboard the vehicle will capture the action as it accelerates to four times the speed of sound and falls back to Earth. Viewers with an Internet connection can follow along live.
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With files from NASA and The Associated Press