Mars 'flying saucer' splashes down after NASA test

Space agency tries out new technology designed to bring spacecraft safely down to Mars
Associated Press
Jun 30, 2014


NASA has tested new technology designed to bring spacecraft — and one day even astronauts — safely down to Mars, with the agency declaring the experiment a qualified success even though a giant parachute got tangled on the way down.

Saturday's $150 million experiment is the first of three involving the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle. Tests are being conducted at high altitude on Earth to mimic descent through the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.

A balloon hauled the saucer-shaped craft 120,000 feet into the sky from a Navy missile range on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Then, the craft's own rocket boosted it to more than 30 miles high at supersonic speeds.

As the craft prepared to fall back to earth, a doughnut-shaped tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down from Mach 4, or four times the speed of sound.

Then the parachute unfurled — but only partially. The vehicle made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Engineers won't look at the parachute problem as a failure but as a way to learn more and apply that knowledge during future tests, said NASA engineer Dan Coatta with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

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

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

NASA investigators expect to know more once they have analyzed data from the box, which they expect to retrieve Sunday along with the vehicle and parachute. They also expect to recover high resolution video.

"We've got a lot to look at," Ian Clark, principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters on a teleconference.

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

But the latest experiment involved both the drag-inducing device and a parachute that was 110 feet in diameter — twice as large as the one that carried the 1-ton Curiosity rover in 2011.

Cutting-edge technologies are needed to safely land larger payloads on Mars, enabling delivery of supplies and materials "and to pave the way for future human explorers," a NASA statement said.

Technology development "is the surest path to Mars," said Michael Gazarik, head of space technology at NASA headquarters


Stop It

$150 million for a failure and they call that a learning curve? YGBFSM.

thinkagain's picture

Having been a team member in the creation of the Viking Lander's 18k 24-bit plated wire computers, I surely thought we’d have sent men there by now. Still, it’s very exciting to see the new technology that will enable a manned landing on Mars.


Re: "I surely thought we’d have sent men there by now."

Let's just get back to the Moon.

We've got this nice big satellite in unaided geosynchronous orbit that can prove invaluable for discovery and scientific research.

FYI: I was fortunate to be passing through Titusville at the time and stayed an extra day (slept in my car) in order to witness the launch of Apollo XV.

That Saturn V was NEAT!

thinkagain's picture

I saw the Space Shuttle launch many times, including two night launches. I would have killed to see a Saturn V lift off! lol

No human colony on the Moon and still waiting on my flying car. The future su@ks...


Re: "Space Shuttle launch,"

I would have enjoyed seeing one.

I now try to AVOID FL as much as possible. :)

Agree: I'm disappointed that there's no 'death ray' or robots!

Stop It

"Let's just get back to the Moon." Agreed. We already KNOW how to get there and land.


You were a WHAT? Never imagined that.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

While people may disagree with his religious stances, thinkagain is no backwater snake-handler capable of only speaking in drawled-out vowels and thinking with pictures as purdy as the inside o' his momma's purse. It was interesting learning about something he did, but given his propensity to attempt to make logical cases and explanations for his beliefs; it seems rather consistent with his education and personality that he worked on a project like space computers. By all I've read of him so far he's quite the nerd and does believe in science.

EDIT to complete my thought.


here's hoping he never changes!