NASA Launches "Flying Saucer" into Earth's Atmosphere

The space agency is testing a new device with a familiar shape in hopes of one day sending a similar craft to Mars.

What's the Latest?


After weeks of delays, NASA has launched a prototype flying saucer they hope can one day be used for a mission to Mars. The saucer was released into the air with aid of a weather balloon this morning. It was then parachuted down through the upper reaches of the atmosphere in conditions similar to what the craft would experience on Mars. The parachute designs are nearly identical to the the kind that helped the twin Viking spacecraft reach the red planet in 1976.

What's the Big Idea?

The saucer's familiar design allows it to bear heavy and massive loads during atmospheric descent. Transporting large machinery, vehicles, or even humans to Mars would require such a device. For comparison's sake, the newest Mars rover - the Mars Science Laboratory -- weighs about 1 ton. This saucer device could potentially transport 30 tons. NASA's $150 million test will determine if the saucer's descent process, crisp on paper, works in practice.

Learn more about the saucer at NASA's site.

Read on at The Boston Herald and USA Today

Photo credit: M. Cornelius / Shutterstock

How to make a black hole

Here's the science of black holes, from supermassive monsters to ones the size of ping-pong balls.

Videos
  • There's more than one way to make a black hole, says NASA's Michelle Thaller. They're not always formed from dead stars. For example, there are teeny tiny black holes all around us, the result of high-energy cosmic rays slamming into our atmosphere with enough force to cram matter together so densely that no light can escape.
  • CERN is trying to create artificial black holes right now, but don't worry, it's not dangerous. Scientists there are attempting to smash two particles together with such intensity that it creates a black hole that would live for just a millionth of a second.
  • Thaller uses a brilliant analogy involving a rubber sheet, a marble, and an elephant to explain why different black holes have varying densities. Watch and learn!
  • Bonus fact: If the Earth became a black hole, it would be crushed to the size of a ping-pong ball.

Project 100,000: The Vietnam War's cruel and deadly experiment

Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?

Flickr user Tommy Truong79
Politics & Current Affairs
  • During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
  • The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
  • Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
Keep reading Show less

China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
Surprising Science
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Keep reading Show less