You could call it an inflatable balloon or an inflatable heat shield; you could call it Inflatable Re-entry Vehicle Experiment 3, or IRVE-3; you could call it an aersoshell, too. Or just call it what it is… cool.
NASA has taken one small step—they’re always doing that!—to landing a person on Mars, the Christian Science Monitor reported today.
The inflatable heat shield will help spacecrafts traveling at hypersonic speeds, about 7,600 mph, slow down as they enter a planet’s atmosphere.
Neil Cheatwood, the IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., who was quoted by the Christian Science Monitor said:
"As far as the applicability of the technology, [we were] originally motivated to do this to allow us to potentially land more masses at Mars. Mars is a very challenging destination. It has a very thin atmosphere — too much of an atmosphere to ignore, but not enough for us to do the things we would at other planets. That was our motivation about nine years ago when we started doing this stuff."
So here it is... "cool."