Going to Mars is nothing easy, which is why NASA still makes preparations for that big moment. In just a few days, the space agency will launch a huge inflatable heat shield in low-Earth orbit. The goal is to see if the shield can be used for safe landings on Mars.
The shield in question is known as the Low-Earth Orbit Flight Test of an Inflatable Decelerator (LOFTID), and it resembles a flying saucer, according to Daily Mail. It measures 20 feet, and it shall be carried into space by an Atlas V rocket.
Obviously, entering the atmosphere of Mars can be a dangerous game to play for future astronauts, even if they’re located in spacecraft. That’s where LOFTID comes into the scene, as you might have already guessed, thanks to its name.
The atmosphere of Mars is a lot different than the one of Earth – it’s a lot less dense, making it a lot more difficult for astronauts to safely land a spacecraft on the Red Planet.
NASA explained in a statement:
The atmosphere of Mars is much less dense than that of Earth and provides an extreme challenge for aerodynamic deceleration. The atmosphere is thick enough to provide some drag, but too thin to decelerate the spacecraft as quickly as it would in Earth’s atmosphere.
The American space agency plans to send the first astronauts to our neighboring planet in the next decade. The upcoming Artemis mission of returning humans to the Moon, which is scheduled to launch in 2025, will have a crucial role in sending humans to Mars as well. A man and a woman should land on the Moon if everything goes as planned.
The launch of LOFTID will take place tomorrow, Nov. 9, from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and a JPSS-2 polar-orbiting weather satellite will also join the ride.