After weeks of delays, NASA has launched a prototype flying saucer they hope can one day be used for a mission to Mars. The saucer was released into the air with aid of a weather balloon this morning. It was then parachuted down through the upper reaches of the atmosphere in conditions similar to what the craft would experience on Mars. The parachute designs are nearly identical to the the kind that helped the twin Viking spacecraft reach the red planet in 1976.
What’s the Big Idea?
The saucer’s familiar design allows it to bear heavy and massive loads during atmospheric descent. Transporting large machinery, vehicles, or even humans to Mars would require such a device. For comparison’s sake, the newest Mars rover – the Mars Science Laboratory — weighs about 1 ton. This saucer device could potentially transport 30 tons. NASA’s $150 million test will determine if the saucer’s descent process, crisp on paper, works in practice.