Kids' Science Challenge: Mars - Giant Chutes: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Nov 02, 2009
Scientist: Adam Steltzner

Kids' Science Challenge: Mars - Giant Chutes

Kids' Science Challenge: Mars - Giant Chutes
Not your ordinary parachute: what it takes to slow a speeding Mars rover to avoid a crash landing.


music; sfx wind tunnel

AS: “My job is to take the spacecraft from hurtling towards Mars at 12,000 miles an hour, and slow it down gently and gradually to about 1 mile an hour when it touches the surface of Mars.”

JM: Jumping out of an airplane and pulling a ripcord is one thing. But stopping a car-sized rover as it careens towards the Martian surface is quite another. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The thin atmosphere on Mars is a major concern for JPL engineer Adam Steltzner, who’s developing an oversized parachute for the careful delivery of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, in 2011.

AS: “Parachute tests that we’ve conducted at the Ames Research Center are trying to find out if we’ve built the parachute strong enough. So, we went to the world’s largest wind tunnel and took our whole parachute and opened it up. It wasn’t actually that windy. But it still produced the same forces on the parachute, because the air here on Earth is so very thick and dense. On Earth, we’d have a parachute that would stretch out to maybe be about the size of a car, but our parachute was about the size of a house, 21 meters in diameter a really big parachute and we needed that, because big parachute, little air adds up to something that we can deal with.”

So if you’re ever planning to skydive on Mars, make sure to pack an enormous parachute, to compensate for the lack of air resistance you’ll find there. Activities like kite flying would also present similar challenges. Imagining Sports on Mars is just one of the categories in this year’s Kids’ Science Challenge, our nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. And if your kids or students have ideas for new sports that utilize the unique features of Mars, you can enter them at That’s I’m Jim Metzner.