NASA Launches ‘Flying Saucer’ Over Hawaii

NASA scientists launched a vehicle into the atmosphere over Hawaii today (June 28), and though it resembles a flying saucer straight out of a B-movie, it may be key to humanity’s future missions to mars.

NASA’s “flying saucer,” which is officially named the low-density supersonic decelerator, was tested at the Pacific Missile Range Facility, following a month of setbacks, ABC News reports. The $150 million experimental flight was originally scheduled for June 2, but was postponed several times due to wind conditions.

The saucer’s mission is key to developing technology that will one day help to land probes, and eventually humans, on Mars. NASA currently relies on antiquated parachute technology that was developed over 40 years ago for the Viking missions, according to Ian Clark of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

“We’ve been using the same parachutes for several decades now. If we want to eventually land a human on the surface of Mars, we realized we need to develop new technologies.”

During the mission, a gargantuan balloon carried the saucer 23 miles high above the ocean off of Kauai, Hawaii, before releasing it. The balloon measures an astounding 34 million cubic feet, large enough to completely fill the Rose Bowl, according to USA Today. After the vehicle was released, a rocket attached to it fired, accelerating the saucer to four times the speed of sound in an effort to simulate a martian landing.

An inflatable ring that encircles the saucer, and is fashioned from the same material as bulletproof vests, deployed during the descent. Coupled with an immense parachute, the inflatable ring is designed to brake the saucer as it speeds through the atmosphere, eventually landing in the waters off Kauai.

The supersonic decelerator isn’t the first NASA technology to resemble something straight out of science fiction. As The Inquisitr previously reported, speculative designs of a proposed faster-than-light “warp drive” starship, which resembled a vessel from Star Trek, sparked the curiosity of science fiction fans when they were released earlier this month.

The new technology will allow for payloads weighing over two tons to safely land on Mars, Clark said, pointing out that the use of multiple parachutes could allow for even heavier spacecraft to be deployed in the future. NASA engineers will analyze data from the test, and conduct several more flights before deciding whether to deploy the “flying saucer” on a future Mars mission.

[Image via USA Today]