Headed for “seven minutes of terror?” Better pack your polymer parachute.
When you’ve got to slow down from 80 miles high, and 12,300 miles per hour fast, in under seven minutes, you need a REALLY good parachute. And polymers did the trick for NASA’s Mars InSight lander – now sitting safe and sound on the Red Planet, while back on Earth, a roomful of engineers was, well, you can see for yourself.
(Photo from NASA/Bill Ingalls)
(And just guessing – but we’d bet you don’t see a lot of that at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.)
What made for a really good day at JPL? A parachute made from polymers. And what’s THAT all about? Two words: polyester and nylon.
(Though that’s polyester and nylon fabrics on steroids (in a good way) – so you can’t just sew together a bunch of old shirts, and drop something off the roof. But fundamentally, it IS the same polyester and nylon that are in those old shirts, and socks, and sweats and a zillion other things.)
And where do those come from? Well, there is no polyester plant, no nylon mine – but the ingredients to make them DO come from Nature. Right out of the ground, in fact. From petroleum and natural gas come xylene (which is the starting point for polyester), as well as benzene or butadiene (the chemistry set for making nylon).
Without those PETROchemicals, there’s no nylon, no polyester. Without nylon and polyester, there’s no polymer parachute. And without that polymer parachute, there’s…
Featured image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech