published Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Mars 'flying saucer' splashes back down after test

This image taken from video provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying this saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing technology that could be used to land on Mars.
This image taken from video provided by NASA shows the launch of the high-altitude balloon carrying this saucer-shaped vehicle for NASA, Saturday, June 28, 2014, in Kauai, Hawaii. Saturday's experimental flight high in Earth's atmosphere is testing technology that could be used to land on Mars.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LOS ANGELES — A saucer-shaped vehicle launched by balloon high into Earth's atmosphere has splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, completing a successful test of technology that could be used to land on Mars.

The $150 million experimental flight Saturday tested a novel vehicle and a giant parachute designed to deliver heavier spacecraft and eventually astronauts.

The parachute did not fully deploy but NASA still deemed the mission a success.

After taking off from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Hawaii, the balloon boosted the disc-shaped vehicle over the ocean. Its rocket motor carried the vehicle to 34 miles high, where the environment was similar to the thin Martian atmosphere.

As the vehicle dropped back to Earth, a tube around it expanded like a Hawaiian puffer fish, creating atmospheric drag to dramatically slow it down.

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