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 with an Internet connection can follow along live.
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,
Since it's impractical to test unproven technology on Mars,
During the flight, a high-flying balloon will loft the disc-shaped vehicle from the
As it descends to Earth, a tube around the vehicle should inflate, slowing it down. Then the parachute should pop out, guiding the vehicle to a gentle splashdown in the Pacific.
The latest test program "is advancing capabilities and creating the engineering knowledge needed for the next generation of Mars landers," Braun, who served as
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