Southern California scientists working on getting 'flying saucer' to Mars

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE, Calif. -- Flying saucers are the stuff of science fiction, but NASA is turning science fiction into just plain science at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

It's called the LDSD for Low Density Supersonic Decelerator. Fortunately, the NASA folks unofficially refer to this as their Mars saucer -- though not necessarily a flying saucer.

"It does look a lot like a flying saucer, but for us, it's much more than that," said Jeff Weiss of the JPL Saucer Program.

An animation from NASA shows how their saucer will help land equipment and maybe even people on the Red Planet.

The saucer is going to be moving 15,000 miles per hour -- faster than a bullet as it approaches the Martian surface.

To slow down for landing, the saucer deploys an airbag to increase its drag, then pops a massive, 100-foot diameter parachute.

NASA experts are hoping their saucers will help them slow down and land bigger things on Mars.

When NASA tested the saucer last summer, everything worked except the chute, which quickly shredded.

The JPL scientists will be doing more of these tests in June and next summer. If the program works, NASA might be able to get its saucers to Mars sometime after 2020.

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