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NASA Sending Experimental Saucer Into Earth's Atmosphere Above Kauai

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— This time it's not a hoax. Folks in Hawaii should see a flying saucer in the skies above Kauai Thursday morning. It's a NASA project meant to eventually help land heavy objects on Mars. Up until now parachutes have been used.

NASA needs a little cooperation from Mother Nature as it prepares to launch the saucer-shaped vehicle into Earth's atmosphere.

NASA Sending Experimental Saucer Into Earth's Atmosphere Above Kauai

"NASA knows that if we're ever going to send people to Mars (that's like their big goal) they're going to have to land big things, basically the equivalent of a space house on the Martian surface. Parachutes just really won't do the trick to land those big heavy things," said Tariq Malik, managing editor of

Malik said this saucer is not tea-cup size. The craft for this week's test mission is 20 feet in diameter, but in the future he said saucers as big as 100 feet could be used.

In the test, it will be lifted into the stratosphere by a giant balloon. As it drops back into the atmosphere, Malik said it will inflate a conical saucer-shaped shield that will slow it down.

"That is what NASA thinks could do the trick, this super-sonic decelerator," he said.

Finally, a parachute much bigger than anything used until now, will cushion the saucer as it drifts down to an ocean landing. Multiple parachutes could allow something weighing as much as 20 to 30 tons make a soft landing.

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