Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

NASA tests flying saucer craft for future manned mission to Mars

By Shelby Lin Erdman and Greg Botelho, CNN
June 29, 2014 -- Updated 1551 GMT (2351 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: NASA spokeswoman: The test appears to have been a success
  • NEW: The powered flight and descent of the test vehicle took 30 minutes, NASA says
  • NASA's newest spacecraft launches into the skies over Hawaii on a test flight
  • Safely landing a hurtling spacecraft is crucial for a human mission to Mars

(CNN) -- If you think you saw a flying saucer Saturday over Hawaii, you might not be crazy -- except what you saw didn't come from outer space, though that may be its ultimate destination.

After several weather-related delays this month, NASA's new spacecraft lifted off from the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range facility in Kauai, Hawaii, on Saturday morning.

The space agency said its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, or LDSD, went up at 8:45 a.m. (2:45 p.m. ET), carried aloft by a giant balloon on a mission to test landing technologies for a future human mission to Mars.

Shortly after 11 a.m., the test vehicle dropped from the balloon and the "powered flight," as NASA described it, began. At this point, the disc-like LDSD was about 120,000 feet, or more than 20 miles, above Earth.

NASA said their current information indicates the spacecraft's rocket fired just as they hoped, with the expectation that it would rise up to about 180,000 feet, reaching the stratosphere.

Eventually, a donut-shaped tube inflated -- which makes the whole thing look like a flying saucer -- thus beginning the deceleration process. The next thing that was supposed to slow the vehicle's descent was a giant parachute, though NASA acknowledged it "did not deploy as expected."

The whole process ended with the vehicle's splashdown in the Pacific about 11:35 a.m., or 30 minutes after it was released from the balloon.

"From what we know, the test was successful," said Shannon Ridinger, a NASA spokeswoman.

Ridinger noted that noted NASA officials are still going through the data to assess everything what happened, noting that the only flaw known right now was that the parachute the space agency was testing had "an issue."

Project managers are expected to give a more thorough rundown of how things went on Sunday morning.

Current technology for decelerating from high speeds during re-entry into the atmosphere to the final stages of landing on Mars dates back to NASA's Viking Program, which put two landers on the Martian surface in 1976.

The basic Viking parachute design has been used ever since. It was successfully used again in 2012 to deliver the rover Curiosity to Mars.

Curiosity, by the way, just celebrated the anniversary of its first Martian year on the Red Planet.

NASA will need new and improved landing technologies to handle the larger spaceships of tomorrow and land them on rocky surfaces.

NASA's deep-space craft readying for launch

Happy anniversary! On Mars, Curiosity rover has done a lot in a long year

Part of complete coverage on
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
Jason Hullinger, a computer security architect in Los Angeles, went to Joshua Tree National Park in December to catch the Geminid meteor shower.
For thousands of years, man has looked to the stars in search of answers. Who are we? Why are we here? Are we alone?
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
From the realms of science fiction to science fact, Rosetta mission's scientists succeeded in landing a washing machine-sized probe named Philae on a moving comet.
October 10, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Greek technical diver Alexandros Sotiriou discovers an intact
Armed with the most advanced marine technology available, archaeologists have recovered new treasures from the ancient shipwreck.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Immortal Jellyfish lifecycle
Does the secret to eternal life exist already and live in the sea?
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1443 GMT (2243 HKT)
Meet KAO=S, a band of spellbinding musicians fusing Japanese cultural icons against a backdrop of rock and musical theater.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
Earthbound audience captivated as surreal Twitter conversation takes place 300M miles away.
December 5, 2014 -- Updated 1243 GMT (2043 HKT)
Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony at Symphony Hall.
The slightest movement by this man's hand can change the behavior of at least 100 people.
November 11, 2014 -- Updated 1541 GMT (2341 HKT)
"A living painting is many things," says artist and designer Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic. "It's a painting in process, it's a work of film, it's an actual tactile painting."
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 0938 GMT (1738 HKT)
For half a century, "Alvin" has quietly traveled through the seven seas, uncovering the ocean's mysteries.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1943 GMT (0343 HKT)
solar flare july 2014
From Earth, the sun appears as a constant circle of light, but when viewed in space a brilliant display of motion is revealed.
ADVERTISEMENT