Inflatable flying saucers could help colonists land on Mars

Credit: NASA/JPL

The first humans to set foot on Mars could very well arrive in classic sci-fi fashion. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is currently testing discs that are ostensibly flying saucers. These flying saucers, called Low-Density Supersonic Decelerators (LDSD), would help Mars-bound astronauts land on the planet's surface without being obliterated by the impact.

While the voyage from Earth to Mars isn't without danger, decelerating a spacecraft at the end of the trip in a way that is both fast enough to assure a soft landing and slow enough to keep humans from becoming puddles on the floor is the real trick. To do that, the LDSD is designed in a drag-creating saucer shape. It can even deploy an inflatable airbag to create further deceleration as it falls through the atmosphere.

Once the spacecraft has been slowed enough, clusters of parachutes will be deployed, creating, as NASA's Ian Clark puts it, "just enormous amounts of drag." Ultimately, Clark and his team believe the system will be capable of safely landing payloads of up to 15 tons on the martian surface. Hopefully, if life does exist on Mars, we won't freak it out too much as we touch down aboard our flying saucers.

JPL, via Space.com

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