NASA has successfully tested a ‘saucer’-shaped spacecraft for future missions to Mars. A helium balloon carrying an experimental spaceship similar to the shape of the UFO, floated off a launch tower at the US Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, on Saturday (January 28).
A novel inflatable shield to burn off speed worked, but the test fell apart when a massive parachute, intended to guide the saucer to a splashdown in the ocean, failed to inflate properly.
The balloon - big enough to fill the Rose Bowl football stadium in Pasadena, California - lifted off at 2:40 pm EDT (18:40 GMT) and reached its designated altitude 120,000 feet (36,576 meters) above the Pacific Ocean about 2.5 hours later.
The launch had been delayed six times this month because of unsuitable weather.
The saucer-shaped Low Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, successfully separated from the balloon and fired up its rocket motor, reaching speeds of 3,000 mph (4,828 kph) - roughly four times the speed of sound.
That set the stage for the real point of the test - collecting engineering data on a novel doughnut-shaped structure designed to quickly unfold, inflate and slow the craft's descent.
The LDSD also held a massive supersonic parachute - the largest NASA has ever tested - that was to guide the craft to a controlled re-entry into the Pacific Ocean.
The 110-foot-diameter (34-meter) parachute failed to properly inflate, however, engineers monitoring the test said.
Recovery teams were standing by to pick up all the equipment splashing down in the ocean.
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