In 2012, NASA made a big splash when it premiered a new landing system – Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL)  to be precise – that successfully put Curiosity on Mars. It was a complicated, staged system, much more involved than the prior approach of crashing spacecraft with cushioning airbags. But that complexity allowed NASA to land a more massive rover than had ever been previously attempted.

If humans are going to land on – and settle on – Mars, Curiosity’s EDL system isn’t going to cut it for the mass needed to maintain life on the surface. But with Mars’ thin atmosphere and reduced gravity, landing on Earth just is not a good analog. How can engineers make sure the system works before trusting people’s lives to it?

With a good deal of ingenuity, that’s how. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has devised a “low density supersonic accelerator” test that has to be seen to be believed…so check it out:

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Merryl Azriel

Merryl Azriel

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Having wandered into professional writing and editing after a decade in engineering, science, and management, Merryl now enjoys reintegrating the dichotomy by bringing space technology and policy within reach of an interested public. After three years as Space Safety Magazine’s Managing Editor, Merryl semi-retired to Visiting Contributor and manager of the campaign to bring the International Space Station collaboration to the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee. She keeps her pencil sharp as Proposal Manager for U.S. government contractor CSRA.