NASA Mars ‘Flying Saucer’ Returns To Earth

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A saucer-shaped NASA vehicle tests new technology for Mars landings rocketed high over the Pacific on Sunday and deployed a novel inflatable braking system, but its massive parachute did not fully unfurl as it descended to some splashdown.

Control space cheers that greeted successful measures in the complex test rapidly died as the parachute appeared to emerge twisted. “Please inform the recovery director we have bad chute, ” a mission official ordered.

NASA planned to hold a news conference on the flight Sunday.

The vehicle, called the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, was testing methods for slowing big, heavy spacecraft hurtling into the thin Martian atmosphere.

Despite the parachute problem, “what we just saw was a really good test, ” said NASA professional Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

After taking off at 11: 40 a. m. PDT through the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the particular balloon boosted the disc-shaped automobile over the Pacific. Its rocket electric motor then ignited, carrying the vehicle to more than 30 miles high in supersonic speeds.

The surroundings that high up is similar to the slim Martian atmosphere. As the vehicle prepared to drop back the Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaii puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or 4 times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute unfurled — if only partially — and the automobile splashed down about three hours later.

Since the twin Viking spacecraft landed on the red planet in 1976, NASA has depended on a parachute to slow landers and rovers.

However the $150 million experimental flight examined a novel vehicle and parachute. At 110 feet in size, the chute was twice as huge as the one that carried the 1 ton Curiosity rover through the Martian environment in 2011.

Coatta said engineers won’t look at the parachute issue as a failure but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests.

“In a way, that’s a more valuable experience for us than if everything had gone exactly according to plan, inch he said.

Viewers around the world with an Internet connection followed servings of the mission in real time thanks to digital cameras on board the vehicle that beamed back low-resolution footage.

A ship was sent to recover a “black box” designed to separate through the vehicle and float. Outfitted using a GPS beacon, the box contains the crucial flight data that scientists are eager to analyze.

“That’s really the treasure trove of all the details, ” Coatta said. “Pressure, temperature, force. High-definition video. Those measurements that are really key to us to understanding exactly what happens throughout this test. ”

The test was postponed six times because of high winds. Situations needed to be calm so that the balloon did not stray into no-fly zones.

Engineers planned to carry out several more flights next year just before deciding whether to fly the car and parachute on a future Roter planet (umgangssprachlich) mission.

“We want to test them here where it can cheaper before we send this to Mars to make sure that it’s going to function there, ” project manager Indicate Adler of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said during a pre-launch news meeting in Kauai in early June.

The technology envelope must be pushed or else humanity won’t be able to fly beyond the International Room Station in low-Earth orbit, said Michael Gazarik, head of area technology at NASA headquarters.

Technology development “is the particular surest path to Mars, ” Gazarik said at the briefing.


Associated Push Science Writer Alicia Chang added to this report.