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Mars NASA Space

NASA's Test Bed For Mars Chute: Kauai 40

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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NASA's Test Bed For Mars Chute: Kauai

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  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Sunday June 01, 2014 @11:30PM (#47144621) Journal
    Rather than Ridgecrest, California. I can practically hear the discussion now...

    Scientist 1: So, we need to test this thing. I suppose we could talk to the folks at China Lake. It's nearby and cheap. We can stay at the Motel 6 in Ridgecrest.
    Scientist 2: Yeah, we could do that, or have the Pacific dudes fire it over HAWAII and we get to hang out in Kawaii!!!!
    Scientist 1: But that's expensive.
    Scientist 2: Fuck that - it's HAWAII!!! It's in the USA! Good enough!
    Scientist 1: Yeah, but...
    Scientist 2: But nothin' dude - have you even been to Kawaii?
    Scientist 1: No, but....
    Scientist 2: but nothin' it's awesome. And it beats the living fuck out of Ridgecrest. You ever been to Ridgecrest?
    Scientist 1: Yeah. It's hot. Out in the desert.
    Scientist 2: Yeah, AND IT SUCKS! They have earthquakes like every other day out there. It's a miserable hell hole that's only rivaled by Barstow and Needles.
    Scientist 1: Well, its not pretty, but it is nearby, and I don't think the test cares if we shoot it over Kawaii or Death Valley, really.
    Scientist 2: The test won't but everyone on the team will. Kawaii is fucking AWESOME DUDE!
    Scientist 1: We can meet budget.
    Scientist 2: We can SURF!
    Scientist 1: OK, let's ask another team mate. What do you think?
    Scientist 3: What, do I look stupid? Fuck Ridgecrest - YOLO baby - let's go to Hawaii!!!
    Scientist 1: Sigh....

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      Kauai is very pretty, the weather on the South and East sides of the island is gorgeous. Unfortunately PMRF is on the West side at the extreme end of the road, pretty far away from the populated side. There's a cool bar in Port Allen though, so it's not so bad even away from everyone and in the relative heat.

      I'd go back in a heartbeat.
      • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @12:27AM (#47144839)

        Given that they have launched Polaris missiles from PMRF Barking Sands this isolation is a feature, not a bug. You can go to the Barking Sands beach there at the state park a little North of the base.

        About 25 years ago there was big dustup when the Air Force planned some missile launches from Barking Sands that would have required closing the park during launch days, and they neglected to tell the State Parks Department about it on the Environmental Impact Statement. That was a very bad move, and cost the Air Force a good deal of time and money once it hit the press.

        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          Barking Sands itself is now closed to anyone but military personnel and to local residents that have applied for and received advance permission to use it from the base commander. Island visitors cannot go there as visitors to the base are only allowed into specific authorized areas and are escorted while there. One can still visit Polihale to the north, but the road getting there is very hard on rental cars.
          • One can still visit Polihale to the north, but the road getting there is very hard on rental cars.

            In fact, most rental car companies give you a map that says, "If you go past here, we will fine you $XXX." Never tested it out, but I was tempted.

            • by TWX ( 665546 )
              Only road in HI that I encountered with that proscription was on Oahu, where part of the coastal ring-road had fallen into the sea but was still marked on some maps.

              The path to Polihale is itself part of the park, and there were no prohibitions on going out there as far as I could tell.
      • >Kauai is very pretty,

        Not after the test probe explodes, scattering burning, toxic, radioactive, heavy metal detritus all over the the island burning the whole place to a barren toxic wasteland.

    • Let's just be grateful these scientists are not researching WMDs.

  • On Soviet Mars, Earthlings land on Mars in flying saucer?

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @12:22AM (#47144825)

    The PMRF at Barking Sands in Kauai is a very well instrumented range that is set up to observe navy exercises in the waters off Kauai, things flying overhead (such as missiles launched in California), and things launched on the beach at Barking Sands (such as this test), so it is not surprising to me that this test is being run there. There is a long history of NASA - Navy collaboration there - back in the shuttle days, the GSTDN station at Kokee Park (a NASA outpost in a PMRF enclave up Waimea Canyon above the beach) would routinely track shuttles coming in for reentry in California, and there is now a Navy VLBI antenna operated by NASA contractors there.

    By the way, it is called Barking Sands because pebbles on the beach make a sound something like seals barking when waves hit them.

  • Now Nasa wan't to bring Martian tourists into our island
    • You aren't fooling us. Every one of us with kids has seen the documentary Lilo and Stitch. There are already aliens on Hawaii.
    • You should know that ha`ole means "without the breath of life" (eg. soulless). It arose because Hawaiians (and most Polynesians) greet each other by smelling this breath of life (you'll see us put our heads near the other person's neck and inhale). Ha`ole shake hands instead, so the natives assumed they didn't have souls. Of course, today ha`ole is used for any light-skinned individual - including those whose families have been in the Islands for generations. Eighty percent of the time I heard it, it was mo

  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @06:46AM (#47145605) Homepage

    " The environment at this altitude is similar to Mars' thin atmosphere"

    Yes, but mars gravity is 1/3rd earths so presumably they'll be testing with only 1/3rd the weight slung under the chute?

    • There was a documentary on the making of the chute for one of the rovers. Yes, they have all that down. It's a tad more complicated than just 1/3rd the weight though. The atmospheres way way thinner than earths as well so the chute doesn't work as efficiently. The most dangerous bit is the opening. The things coming in at an insane speed and if the chute opens incorrectly it can rip itself to threads.

  • ... we can observe the test from the golf course at Princeville, it sounds good to me.

    I need to check if my license plate is still on the wall at Brick Oven Pizza (locals will get this).

  • Not sure I'd want to ride the parachute to a hard-surface landing. Is SpaceX planning to deploy Grasshopper-type technology to Mars landings? Send up some robots to build a landing pad first, if needed. Robots are happy to do a hard landing (or their replacements will be if that doesn't work out).

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      You basically cannot make a parachute big enough to land softly on Mars. The parachute is to slow you down (roughly) from Mach 2 or 1.5 to Mach 0.3 or so, and then you have to use rockets (or airbags, or both) to get down to the surface more or less softly. Viking, Phoenix and MSL used rockets, Mars Pathfinder and MER used rockets plus an airbag (and a willingness to tolerate 15 - 20 g impacts on the surface). In either case, the parachute is jettisoned while still a ways above the surface.

      If you conclude f

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