After a series of weather-related delays, NASA launched the test flight of its revolutionary ‘flying saucer‘ technology Monday, which scientists hope will lay the foundations for future Mars missions.

The high altitude test at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, began at 1:45 p.m. ET with a huge balloon carrying the 15-foot wide, 7,000-pound test flying saucer to high altitude. The balloon, roughly the size of three football fields, will lift the flying saucer to 120,000 feet, a journey which is expected to take 3 hours. About 45 minutes after reaching 120,000 feet the vehicle will be released and a booster rocket will then transport the saucer at Mach 4, four times the speed of sound, to a height of 180,000 feet.

After reaching a height of 180,000 feet, a doughnut-shaped airbag will inflate around the saucer for its descent to earth. Slowed down by the airbag and parachute, the saucer is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii.

NASA believes that the flying saucer will take about 40 minutes to fall to earth.

The saucer, part of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project, which aims to develop landing vehicles for future missions, underwent a “spin test” on a table at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. on March 31.

In an interview last week, Steve Jurczyk, NASA space technology mission directorate associate administrator told FoxNews.com that taking the saucer to an altitude of 180,000 provides a crucial test ahead of future missions to Mars. “We go to that high altitude because it simulates the atmospheric conditions on Mars,” he said. “Mars has a very thin atmosphere.

With current space technologies, NASA can land about 1 metric tonne, or 2,200 pounds on the surface of Mars, roughly equivalent to the Curiosity Rover’s weight.

“With this LDSD technology we hope to land about five metric tonnes, that will enable more capable robotic missions,” said Jurczyk, noting that a ‘sample return’ vehicle could even be used to return Mars samples to earth.

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