NASA readies to test a plane they hope to use on Mars

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NASA Readies To Test A Plane They Hope To Land On Mars

The rovers NASA has been using to study the surface of Mars have proven immensely helpful, but they are limited to ground exploration.

In hopes of expanding the range of discovery, the agency is getting ready to test a small plane they hope will one day be able to sail through the Martian atmosphere.

Later this year, the boomerang-like craft will be will balloon-lifted to an altitude of about 100 thousand feet and released.

As that part of Earth's atmosphere is similar to the relevant one on Mars, researchers will have an opportunity to see how the plane is likely to perform. It will also give them an idea of adjustments that need to be made.

They already know that ultimately the craft will have to be quite compact as transport space is limited. Due to limitations on the weight of objects that can be carried to Mars, it'll also have be under 2 and a half pounds.

If all goes well, the glider could be en route to the Red Planet by the early 2020s. Once there it'll help NASA investigate the Martian surface and locate optimal landing sights for the anticipated manned mission.

See what a sunset looks like on Mars:
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Sunset on Mars, Mars rover, Curiosity, NASA
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NASA readies to test a plane they hope to use on Mars
(Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
This image sent by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Opportunity will spend several days at the summit making pictures that engineers will stitch into a color panorama. (AP Photo/NASA)
This image sent by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Opportunity will spend several days at the summit making pictures that engineers will stitch into a color panorama. (AP Photo/NASA)
This image sent by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Opportunity will spend several days at the summit making pictures that engineers will stitch into a color panorama. (AP Photo/NASA)

Rover Takes Self Portrait

(Photo: NASA/Flickr)

Curiosity Parachute Landing Spotted by NASA Orbiter [detail]

(Photo via NASA/Flickr)

IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 2: In this handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, and captured by NASA's Curiosity rover, a rock outcrop called Link pops out from a Martian surface that is elsewhere blanketed by reddish-brown dust, showing evidence for an ancient, flowing stream, September 2, 2012. The fractured Link outcrop has blocks of exposed, clean surfaces. Rounded gravel fragments, or clasts, up to a couple inches (few centimeters) in size are in a matrix of white material. Many gravel-sized rocks have eroded out of the outcrop onto the surface, particularly in the left portion of the frame. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together. Water transport is the only process capable of producing the rounded shape of clasts of this size. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - SEPTEMBER 14: This handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS, and captured by NASA's Curiosity rover, shows evidence for an ancient, flowing stream at the rock outcrop pictured here September 14, 2012, and a few other sites on Mars, which the science team has named 'Hottah' after Hottah Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories. This geological feature on Mars is exposed bedrock made up of smaller fragments cemented together, or what geologists call a sedimentary conglomerate. Scientists theorize that the bedrock was disrupted in the past, giving it the titled angle, most likely via impacts from meteorites. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
MARS - SEPTEMBER 19: In this handout from NASA/JPL-Caltech, a rock that is approximately 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall and 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide sits in front of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity September 19, 2012 on Mars. According to NASA, the rover team chose the rock, that has been named Jake Matijevic, as the first taget to be examined by Curiosity's contact instruments. Jake Matijevic was a surface operations systems chief engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory Project and the Curiosity rover. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech via Getty Images)
IN SPACE - FEBRUARY 3: In this handout image provided by NASA, a self-portrait of the Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on February 3, 2013 on the planet Mars. Curiosity landed on the planet on August 5, 2012. (Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via Getty Images)
These are the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's 'head' or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground. The topography of the rim is very mountainous due to erosion. The ground seen in the middle shows low-relief scarps and plains. The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover's descent stage thrusters. (NASA/MCT via Getty Images)
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