The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory passed flight-qualification testing in March and April 2009 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
In this image, an engineer is dwarfed by the parachute, the largest ever built to fly on an extraterrestrial flight. It is designed to survive deployment at Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, where it will generate up to 65,000 pounds of drag force.
The parachute, built by Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor, Conn., has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 50 meters (165 feet) in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 16 meters (51 feet).
The wind tunnel is 24 meters (80 feet) tall and 37 meters (120 feet) wide, big enough to house a Boeing 737. It is part of the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, operated by the U.S. Air Force, Arnold Engineering Development Center.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., is building and testing the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft for launch in 2011. The mission will land a roving analytical laboratory on the surface of Mars in 2012. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology.