NASA is investigating the possibility of using helicopter-style rotary blades for capsule re-entry.
Aside from the now retired Space Shuttles, the only way for astronauts to return to Earth from the International Space Station is via an approach that has them hurtling through the atmosphere inside a small capsule at high speed before being slowed down by a parachute. This method works, however it's lack of control means that it is far from an ideal solution.
To combat this, NASA has been testing out the idea of using helicopter rotary blades on the top of a descending capsule to improve its maneuverability. "You can land gently and you can land where you want; you don’t have to land out in the ocean," said Jeff Hagen. "Compared to a parachute, you get a soft landing and you get a targeted landing."
"NASA engineers are testing out a new version of an old idea: fitting rotary wings to a space capsule for a helicopter-like re-entry method."
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