NASA tests inflatable heat shield prototype

NASA tested a large inflatable heat shield prototype on Monday that will help spacecraft slow down as soon as they enter a planet's atmosphere. The heat shield (or aersoshell) was made of high-tech balloons and was dubbed an "unqualified success" after the initial test was completed, which saw it plunge through Earth's atmosphere at speeds up to 7,600 mph. It will help shape new re-entry systems for spacecraft in the future, including those that land on Mars.

The team at NASA has been working on the idea for almost nine years now, and future heat shield developments could be able to land bigger masses, such as payloads with heavy cargo and supplies. The atmosphere on Mars is thin and kind of tricky, so scientists obviously can't afford to ignore it when it comes to safe landing.

The 680-pound IRVE-3 heat shield has an inflation system that pumps nitrogen into the aeroshell so that it expands in the shape of a mushroom, protecting the space capsule from the heat generated by the friction of re-entering the atmosphere. The entire flight was recorded as the capsule came back to Earth, which was able to handle 20 Gs of force and withstand temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.