NASA technologists will get a chance next summer to relive the good old days when Agency engineers would affix space-age gizmos to rockets just to see if the contraptions worked.
In what will be the first of four high-altitude balloon flights to begin in the summer of 2013, technologists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., are preparing to test new deceleration devices that could replace current descent technologies for landing ever-larger payloads at higher elevations on Mars.
NASA hasn't tested deceleration technologies supersonically since 1972 when it conducted four high-altitude tests of a supersonic parachute used during the Viking program. "We’ve been stuck with that design ever since," said Mark Adler, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) program lead. NASA will use the same technology again this year when it delivers the Curiosity rover to Mars.