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NASA’s “flying saucer” device made a hard landing in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, ending what the space agency deemed a successful test after attempts earlier in June were cancelled due to high winds. A large helium balloon lifted the device, called a low-density supersonic decelerator, 120,000 feet. During its descent, an inflatable so-called “doughnut” apparatus functioned properly, but a newly-designed supersonic parachute failed to deploy, causing the rough landing. NASA will hold a teleconference Sunday to release initial data from the test.
The trial, which began at the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, took about three hours and was meant to test the new parachutes’ capabilities. The supersonic parachute, twice the size of the one used to land the Curiosity rover on Mars, is about 110 feet in size. The test’s results will help NASA prepare for future Mars missions, which may ultimately include astronauts and require stronger parachutes to ensure a safe descent onto the red planet. Since the 1976 Viking spacecraft landed on Mars, NASA has used the same parachute design.