Spaceport America — Nasa launched and tested a new umbrella-like heat shield on Wednesday, opening the door to landing humans on Mars. The new technology — dubbed the adaptable deployable entry placement technology (ADEPT) — can be stored like a folded umbrella inside smaller rockets, opening handle-up in space to protect larger payloads as they enter a planet’s atmosphere, said Brandon Smith, Nasa’s principal investigator on the project. The shape allows it to protect larger areas than current heat shields. "At the larger scales, it could be used for something as grand as human Mars explorations, or potentially human cargo landings on Mars," Smith told Reuters at the Spaceport America launch site, about 80km north of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Nasa is preparing to send a new rover robotic lander to Mars in 2020 and plans to send human astronauts in 2033. The rover will search for previous signs on life on Mars and demonstrate technology that could helpast ronauts survive there. The go...

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