An Associated Press story, as carried by the Philadelphia Inquirer, says that NASA plans to test this Tuesday on the Hawaiian island of Kauai a huge (110' diameter) parachute intended as a means to land big loads (like astronauts) on the surface of Mars. Says the story: "The skies off the Hawaiian island of Kauai will be a stand-in for Mars as NASA prepares to launch a saucer-shaped vehicle in an experimental flight designed to land heavy loads on the red planet. For decades, robotic landers and rovers have hitched a ride to Earth's planetary neighbor using the same parachute design. But NASA needs a bigger and stronger parachute if it wants to send astronauts there. ... During the flight, a high-flying balloon will loft the disc-shaped vehicle from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai to 23 miles over the Pacific where it will be dropped. Then it will fire its rocket motor to climb to 34 miles, accelerating to Mach 4. The environment at this altitude is similar to Mars' thin atmosphere. 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."
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