Flying saucers from Mars is the stuff of science fiction. But a flying saucer from Earth is part of the mission to get astronauts to the Martian surface.
NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory completed a successful spin test of a saucer-shaped experimental craft in front of a live web audience Tuesday. The saucer will next lift off by balloon from Hawaii, where from 120,000 feet it will be dropped to test a new kind of parachute and an inflatable Kevlar ring to add drag for a slower descent.
The dwarf planet named after the Roman goddess of motherly relationships will soon have a new friend. And scientists and space-exploration geeks here on Earth can’t wait for that friend, the space probe Dawn, to start dishing.
Dawn, launched in 2007 to visit two bodies within the asteroid belt past Mars, is scheduled to enter an orbit of the dwarf planet Ceres on March 6. Ceres is the largest mass in the asteroid belt and has an icy mantle that may harbor an internal ocean of water under its surface. Talk of water on a planetary body always leads to questions of life.
Ceres has long been a curiosity to astronomers and space observers, and its status — is it an asteroid? a dwarf planet? — has been hotly debated ever since its discovery in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi.