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04.02.2008

No Speed Limit on Mars

This animated gif is a combination of three still images. The first image shows two engineers aiming the cannon that will fire the tightly packed parachute into the wind tunnel. The second image shows a perfectly functioning parachute with the canopy fully open at the opposite end of the wind tunnel after being fired from the cannon. The third image shows two engineers kneeling on the wind tunnel floor and connecting lines to a parachute.

It's a good thing there's no speed limit on Mars, because the next parachute to fly to the red planet deploys faster than you can legally drive on a California freeway! The chute is designed to slow the Mars Science Laboratory as it rockets through the Martian atmosphere at more than twice the speed of sound. Engineers recently tested two parachute packing techniques in the world's largest wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center. They loaded each chute into a cannon and aimed it down the middle of the tunnel. They then fired the cannon -- horizontally -- at 85 mph and let the parachute fly! Finally, they looked for damage to line attachments and other parts. All four tests were successful. They are now reviewing a veritable "jet stream" of high-speed video data to select a final design.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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