By the time NASA’s flying saucer splashed down in the Pacific in June, the engineers who designed it already knew their experiment had been a huge success. From the control tower at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility, they had watched the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator — a device intended to enable bigger and better missions to Mars — soar through a series of critical tests as it arced high in the atmosphere above Hawaii.
The only hitch came at the end of the flight, when the LDSD’s parachute failed to inflate. This was the final step in a carefully choreographed sequence of events designed to simulate here on Earth what it’s like to land millions of miles away on Mars.
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