NASA's 'Flying Saucer' Test a Success—Sort of

Parachute fails to fully deploy in Mars landing simulation
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 29, 2014 6:21 AM CDT
The launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying a saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, to test technology that could be used to land on Mars, Saturday June 28, 2014 in Kauai, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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(Newser) – NASA's test of a flying saucer-esque vehicle ended with a bit of a bumpy landing, but the space agency is calling the experiment a step forward in its quest to land large payloads on Mars. As the AP reports, NASA yesterday launched the Low Density Supersonic Decelerator in the skies over Hawaii; its own rocket then sent it more than 30 miles up. The trick, however, was getting it safely back to Earth, imitating landing conditions in the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet: As it fell back down at Mach 4, a tube deployed around the saucer, creating drag to slow it.

The test's only snafu came when a parachute only partially unfurled, which sent the decelerator in for a hard landing in the Pacific, but "In a way, that's a more valuable experience for us than if everything had gone exactly according to plan," says a NASA engineer. A ship is currently out looking for the decelerator's black box. (Click for more on NASA's explanation of Mars' mystery light.)

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