NASA’s Low Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle was test-driven for the first time on Saturday. The new technology will be used to help spacecraft and possibly even astronauts experience a softer landing when they finally get to Mars (how they deal with hostile extraterrestrials will be left up to them).
LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 onto 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 onof . 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 thein 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 planned to hold a news teleconference on the flight Sunday..
[continues at MSN]