By now you know when late at night or early in the morning to watch the sky for the ISS, if not just get the e-mail alert it gives you the chills to see this star travel the sky and know there are Earthlings looking down, Earthlings that everyday face the toughest conditions known to man.. but I digress.
What if you were to look up in the sky and see something all together different-a flying saucer?
That is what was planned for Kauai.
The flying saucer I speak of is a massive helium balloon developed by NASA to act as a Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) that will act as brakes to a landing capsule for use somewhere such as Mars. (Low atmospheric density and relative low gravity prevent conventional parachutes or landing rockets or even heat shields to act as brakes for landing capsules that weigh more than a few tons and need to slow to subsonic velocity before impacting the surface.
NASA had planned on testing it and searched the world looking at weather and wind conditions to see where would be favorable. Kauai won. The area has to have wind conditions that will allow the balloon needed to carry the saucer away from populated areas to over the ocean. Recent conditions haven’t been acceptable.
Now NASA is planning on the chance to launch later this month. If that is te case here is how it will go down. 1) a 963,000 m3 will take it off the ground. From there a rocket motor will send the vehicle to Mach 4. Then a pressure vessel that has been dubbed the "Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (SIAD) will inflate the uniquely styled DSD which in turn will slow the test item to a lower speed at which time a supersonic parachute will be deployed. And you thought Hawaii was all beaches and volcanoes, soon the saucer will land!
Speaking of Mars, before the 2020’s are here Elon Musk says we’ll be there. He hopes to have boots on the ground on Mars in 10-12 years. However key he feels is to also have a self sustaining city there so that life will truly be multi-planetary.
If that time frame sounds a tad sooner than you had heard, Musk’s schedule puts him possibly a decade ahead of NASA but there are several caveats. One – they have to get billions in public funding (personally I am willing to donate, but they will still need about a billion more!) two – SpaceX has to build a newer space vehicle with enough payload to make Mars possible. Anyone who sees two as difficult hasn’t been paying attention. SpaceX, admittedly grateful to NASA for helping them along the way, has constantly been a pioneer in the space industries; it has been suggested that part of the money could come from the privately held company joining the stock exchange. (I can’t think of a surer bet)
So one way or another Mars is on the agenda. It is possible when NASA arrives that they’l be helping to further populate the cities of Mars with more earthlings!