NASA launching ‘flying saucer’ Mars test from Hawaii

The Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility is hosting the test flight of a spacecraft that's outfitted with some new technology. (CNN/KHNL)
The Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility is hosting the test flight of a spacecraft that's outfitted with some new technology. (CNN/KHNL)

KAUAI, Hawaii (CNN/KHNL) — Thursday is the next chance for NASA to launch a unique Mars experiment from Kauai, Hawaii.

The Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility is hosting the test flight of a spacecraft that’s outfitted with some new technology.

It’s technology that could one day help us land on the red planet.

The spacecraft is shaped like a flying saucer.

The test over the Pacific Ocean will simulate the entry, descent and landing speeds a craft would experience when flying through the Martian atmosphere.

The giant disk carries an inflatable inner tube-shaped decelerator and parachute system.

A large balloon will carry the disk to an altitude of 120,000 feet.

After release from the balloon, rockets will lift the disk to 180,000 feet, while reaching supersonic speeds.

Traveling at 3 1/2 times the speed of sound, the saucer’s decelerator will inflate, slowing it down.

Then, a parachute will deploy to carry it to the ocean’s surface.

The project manager explained the test’s significance.

“So, if we want to put bigger things on Mars; we want to extend our reach, not with just robots, but also with people and more into the Solar System, ” said project manager Mark Adler. “To go to Mars, this is one of the key, critical technologies that we’re going to need to be able to do that.”

Meanwhile, NASA is waiting for the right weather conditions for the test.

The next opportunity is Thursday, followed by several other days through June 13.

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