The skies off the Hawaiian island of
For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbor using the same parachute design. But
Weather permitting, the space agency will conduct a test flight Tuesday high in Earth's atmosphere that's supposed to simulate the thin Martian air.
Cameras rigged aboard the vehicle will capture the action as it accelerates to four times the speed of sound and falls back to Earth. Viewers can follow its descent live on the Internet.
Engineers cautioned that they may not succeed on the first try.
"As long as I get data, I'll be very happy," said project manager
The search for a way to land massive payloads on Mars predates the existence of
Landing has always been "one of the big technology challenges for a human Mars mission,"
When the twin Viking landers became the first spacecraft to set down on Mars in 1976, they relied on parachutes to slow down after punching through the Martian atmosphere. The basic design has been used since, including during the Curiosity rover's hair-raising landing in 2012.
With plans to land heavier spacecraft and eventually humans,
It's so gigantic that it can't fit into the wind tunnels that
Since it's impractical to test unproven technology on Mars,
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