It sounds like something out of an HG Wells novel, but NASA's newest innovation may pave the way to getting humans on Mars. The agency successfully tested a $17 million inflatable heat shield yesterday, reports Space.com. The Inflatable Re-Entry Vehicle Experiment 3 (IRVE-3) blasted off from a NASA site in Virginia and then re-entered Earth's atmosphere without a hitch, protected by what amounts to "high-tech balloons," explains DVice.
In theory, NASA could use similar devices to land big payloads on Mars, despite its thin and "tricky" atmosphere. The test is "a first step for how we explore other worlds," says a NASA researcher. More tests are planned to continue fine-tuning the technology. (Should humans make their way to Mars, click to read about what they might eat on their journey.)