On the day with the best weather in Virginia between July 21 and July 24, NASA will test its Inflatable Re-Entry Vehicle Experiment (IRVE-3). It's a 10-foot wide, 680-pound inflatable heat shield for delivering payloads to a planet's surface from orbit. The shield will be carried by a rocket that will re-enter Earth's atmosphere at Mach 5. As it descends, its speed could reach up to 7,600 miles per hour.

"We originally came up with this concept because we'd like to be able to land more mass and access higher altitudes on Mars," says Neil Cheatwood, IRVE-3 principal investigator at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

The test flight - from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia - will take approximately 20 minutes.