BARKING SANDS, Hawaii -- The giant, solar-powered flying wing NASA is testing in Hawaii could one day routinely sail the skies above Earth -- and eventually Mars. But first it has to get off the ground.
After poor weather delayed two liftoff attempts this weekend, NASA planned to try again Monday to achieve a world altitude record by a non-rocket powered aircraft with the Helios Prototype.
The Helios will attempt to reach an altitude of 100,000 feet -- three times higher than any commercial jet -- in ideal weather, NASA said.
Since the atmosphere at 100,000 feet is expected to be similar to the Martian atmosphere, the data collected from the Helios at high altitudes will also help engineers plan for future Mars aircraft designs, NASA said.
"So flying at 100,000 feet will give us some technology anchors for developing an aircraft that could fly on Mars," said Kevin Petersen, director of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Petersen said flying a solar-powered aircraft over Mars could survey a lot more area than a vehicle on the ground.
NASA also says the flight off the Hawaiian island of Kauai could lead to other major technological advancements in telecommunications and atmospheric monitoring.
"We have the opportunity to go to altitudes with propeller driven aircraft where no one has gone before," Petersen said. "This is flight research at the finest."
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