NASA’s Supersonic Parachute Test Flight Fails

August 18, 2015

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. parachute / ˈpær əˌʃut / (n.) – a device used to float down safely from a high altitude to the surface 
Example: Skydivers usually have another parachute for backup.

2. inflate / ɪnˈfleɪt /  (v.) – to cause to expand with air
Example: Most party balloons are inflated using helium.

3. deploy / dɪˈplɔɪ / (v.) – to spread or open up the parts of something
Example: Scientists deployed the parachute as the machine went down from the sky.

4. rupture / ˈrʌp tʃər /  (v.) – to tear or rip apart
Example: Too much air ruptured the balloon.

5. altitude / ˈæl tɪˌtud / (n.) – something’s height above sea level
Example: The plane reached a very high altitude.


Read the text below.
A supersonic parachute by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) failed to fully inflate during a test flight in June.

During the test flight, the supersonic parachute carried the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD), an atmospheric entry vehicle developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The LDSD weighs more than 6,800 pounds, double the weight of NASA’s robotic rover spacecraft that has safely landed on Mars.

To determine if the parachute could safely deploy the heavy vehicle in a supersonic environment, NASA conducted a test flight in Hawaii. The parachute was able to lift the LDSD 120,000 feet into the atmosphere. However, the supersonic parachute eventually ripped apart because of the fast-rushing air. Because the parachute was ruptured, the LDSD dramatically landed in the Pacific Ocean.

Despite the parachute’s destruction, scientists from NASA remain optimistic about the project. Ian Clark, principal investigator of the LDSD project, said that the data they got from this test will help scientists improve the parachutes they will use in the future.

This test was part of a three-part test flight for the LDSD project. The first test was conducted last year. During the first test flight, the LDSD also reached an altitude of 120,000 feet. However, the parachute also did not deploy properly, as it appeared to be tangled. The next test flight is scheduled in the summer of 2016.

With the LDSD project, NASA aims to send people to Mars in the 2030s.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A 

·         Why do you think NASA wants to bring people to Mars?
·         In your opinion, are the LDSD test flights practical? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         Would you be willing to spend your money to travel to outer space? Why or why not?
·         Why do you think some people want to explore outer space and other planets?

August 18, 2015