NASA successfully tested its Mars-bound “flying saucer” on Saturday. The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) will go through another two tests in 2015. The US space agency is spending about $150 million to test new technologies that would help NASA send big spacecraft, and possibly humans, on the red planet. It will make landing on Mars easier through the red planet’s thin atmosphere.
Though the supersonic parachute failed to work, NASA calls the mission a success
At 2:45 p.m. EDT on Saturday, the “flying saucer” or a large helium-filled balloon lifted off with the spacecraft from the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. After reaching about 120,000 feet above the Earth, the LDSD detached from the parachute and launched its own rocket engine to go 180,800 feet above the Earth at 3.8 times the speed of sound.
The NASA detached the engine and deployed its inflatable deceleration airbags, the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD). The SIAD is a 20-foot donut-size machine, which slows down the speed of the vehicle to Mach 2.5 or 2.5 times the speed of sound. However, the supersonic parachute didn’t deploy correctly. It was necessary for LDSD to make a soft landing on the Pacific ocean.
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However, the supersonic parachute called the Supersonic Disc Parachute failed to open correctly, and the vehicle splashed into the ocean. NASA engineers hailed the test as a success. The space agency recovered the black box that has all the information scientists need to examine the test flight. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Dan Coatta said that the tangled supersonic parachute wasn’t a failure. It was a way to gain and apply knowledge in future technologies.
NASA vs. Elon Musk: who will put humans on Mars first?
Mark Adler, the LDSD project manager, said the flying saucer “worked beautifully” and the flight met all its objectives. Adler said they have recovered all the vehicle data recorders and vehicle hardware. NASA will apply the lessons learned from this test to its future flights. The agency plans to build a greenhouse on Mars by 2021. However, NASA is unlikely to get humans on Mars before late 2030s. In contrast, Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to put humans on the red planet by 2026.