The NASA Flying Saucer & 6 More Projects So Incredible They’ll Reignite Your Childlike Wonder At The Magic Of Space

Wednesday will be an exciting day for space-enthusiasts everywhere. NASA is going to test one of its flying saucers, and it's live-streaming the whole thing for our education and viewing pleasure (thanks, NASA!). The saucer will be lifted into space by a ginormous weather balloon, where it will capture images from the edge of earth's atmosphere, before breaking away from the balloon and rocketing back to terra firma.

The purpose of this experimental flight is ultimately to help us get a better grasp on what we'll need for human exploration of Mars. Mars has an atmosphere much thinner than the one we have here on earth, so NASA is using this flying saucer (technically called the low-density supersonic decelerator) to test a few apparatuses, namely a newfangled parachute that would hopefully open and help spacecraft to land safely on the surface of the red planet.

I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, Mars exploration sounded like something right out of a wonky episode of Looney Tunes. It didn't seem possible. Then I can remember being in high school and hearing about the first images of Mars' surface being taken by the Viking 1. This is the first time I remember experiencing the magic that NASA created when they take what seems like it could only be science fiction, and turn it into a real life space operation. So to celebrate the test of the new flying saucer, let's take a look at other instances where NASA turned sci-fi into reality.

The Z-2 Technology Spacesuit

Say it with me now: "Buzz Lightyear, to the rescue!" This space-age astronaut suit was selected as a part of a NASA design challenge in 2014. The Z-series of space suits is being developed for use on Mars. Wearing these high-tech suits, NASA astronauts will be more than ready to rove the red planet (or to do Toy Story cosplay).

Space-Grown Veggies

It can’t be all space ice-cream for NASA astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS). Their giant brains need real nutrition! NASA says that the space garden on the ISS not only provides delicious veggies for astronauts, but also provides “psychological benefits of growing plants in space — something that will become more important as crews travel farther from Earth.” I guess this means The Astronaut Farmer wasn’t so far fetched, after all.

Tourist Space Habitat

In 2013 NASA funded further research for an out-there proposal from Anthony Longman of Skyframe Research & Development that detailed plans for an economically viable, self-contained, and human-friendly ecosystem in space. Longman suggested that the ecosystem could be used for research purposes, as well as tourist visits. I don’t even want to think about the cost of THAT vacation…

Ion Propulsion Technology

Ion engines are not just for Star Wars space vehicles. NASA began work on ion propulsion systems in the 1950s, and the technology is in full use for spacecraft today at a space center not so far, far away.

3-D Printing Space-Bots

SpiderFab is a new technology being developed with funding from NASA that would greatly decrease the carrying loads of spacecraft at the time of their launch. The creepy-looking machine will have the capabilities to 3-D print lightweight structures while in space, meaning crafts could carry a lighter load on their way up. Speaking of spiders, NASA has had actual little arachnids living in anti-gravity environments in space. God bless whoever took the assignment of observing the creepy-crawlies.

Star-Guided Autopilot

NASA has awarded funding to Michael Hecht of MIT for his proposal entitled, “A Tall Ship And A Star To Steer Her By” (cute, Michael). Hecht's research will be a phase in the development of an autonomous piloting program that will operate based on “radio observations of quasars, masars, and pulsars.” Basically that means that spacecraft will know where the heck to go based on a magic computer brain and the stars.

Images: NASA; Tethers Unlimited; Wookieepedia; YouTube