June 4, 2014

WELL, THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY, YOU KNOW: NASA Is About to Test a Mega-Parachute at the Edge of Space.

The key to a successful Mars landing is the same thing that matters in landing on any planet: You have to slow down before you hit the ground.

That’s why scientists are testing a new supersonic parachute that they hope will advance the technology needed to land heavier-than-ever spacecrafts—like the kind that will eventually carry humans to the Red Planet. This week, NASA engineers are gathered at Hawaii’s Pacific Missile Range Facility to launch their new Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), a complex package of devices including an inflatable flying saucer and a huge parachute designed for Mars landings. The name of the test vehicle is Keiki o ka honua, or “child from earth” in Hawaiian.

Baby steps.