HONOLULU — NASA is using the skies around the Hawaiian island of Kauai to test new technology that it wants to use for landing larger spacecraft — and eventually astronauts — on Mars.

A giant balloon began lifting the test vehicle high into the atmosphere Monday in preparation for release.

The test will investigate technology designed to slow down a large landing vehicle as it falls through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds.

The descent will start 34 miles above the Earth's surface, where the environment is similar to Mars' thin atmosphere.

The technology includes a tube that's expected to inflate and slow down the vehicle. A giant parachute is then expected to slow the descent further. This parachute is twice as big as the one that carried the Curiosity rover to Mars.