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This heat-proof umbrella will keep ships from burning up in the Martian atmosphere

With a real-life manned mission to Mars on the horizon for NASA (opposed to a Hollywood version of one), the agency has been hard at work researching and developing all the tech necessary to not only make the journey successful, but safe. To address one of the biggest elephants in the room regarding the inevitable trip, a team of engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center just achieved a massive victory concerning the problem of dealing with extreme heat upon entering Mars’ atmosphere. Not only did they manufacture a material which preserves precious rocket space, but one that also remains flexible and durable at temperatures measuring roughly 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Called Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology (ADEPT), NASA’s latest tech (according to the agency itself) is essentially a flexible, heat-resistant umbrella. Made using carbon fabric, the engineers manufactured ADEPT to mechanically deploy over a Mars-bound spaceship as it prepares to enter the planet’s atmosphere. Just this week, tests run on the innovative fabric showed it possesses the ability to hold up to conditions incredibly similar to what actually entering the planet would consist of.

During the tests, engineers blasted extremely high-temperature air directly at the front of the heat shield which was attached to a water-cooled support arm. After the surface of ADEPT reached temperatures of around 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit — and produced the mesmerizing, colorful shock wave seen above — NASA declared the test a resounding success. The shield’s resin-infused protective layers perfectly decomposed throughout the experiment, successfully protecting its stitched fabric joints and avoiding degradation.

Aside from simply testing the carbon fabric itself, NASA said it intends to use the data from the trial to verify how certain materials might react to various testing conditions. The information gathered during the initial run also allows the engineers to develop more extensive tests for ADEPT and its configuration, including the possibility for using it on missions it says are “bigger than anything NASA’s ever flown.”

In addition to all of NASA’s recent findings and achievements concerning the red planet, its latest technological innovation with ADEPT brings it even closer to stepping an actual human foot on Mars. Though it likely won’t be a number of years before NASA actually embarks on such a harrowing journey, being the first generation to see someone other than an actor on Mars will be a truly extraordinary feeling.