Fish Gotta Swim, Saucers Gotta Fly

Image courtesy NASA/JPL

Image courtesy NASA/JPL

Officially it’s called the “Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator,” but everybody just says “flying saucer.” And it’s ready for another test, maybe as soon as tomorrow:

The LDSD had its first field test last June at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, Hawaii. A helium balloon lofted the payload up to 120,000 feet, and then the rocket pushed the LDSD up another 60,000 feet — to a region of the stratosphere where the air is as thin as it is on Mars. The 20-foot-wide inflatable decelerator worked as expected, but as soon as the 110-foot-wide parachute opened, it was shredded apart.

Although the platform splashed down in the Pacific Ocean harder than planned, the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory retrieved a wealth of flight data and declared the test to be a success. The readings resulted in a redesign of the parachute. “It’s a much stronger, much more robust parachute,” principal investigator Ian Clark told reporters Monday.

This year’s flight test could have taken place as early as Tuesday, but in a status report, NASA said “the wave height is not conducive for safe recovery operations.” As a result, the balloon launch was postponed until no earlier than 1:30 p.m. ET (7:30 a.m. Hawaii time) Wednesday. This month’s launch window is open for about two weeks, and there’s another launch window in July, said Mark Adler, LDSD project manager.

I’m starting to wonder if we will be the little green/brown/pink/whatever men, asking for aliens on other worlds to take us to their leaders.