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NASA is showering one city with sonic booms and hoping no one notices

NASA has been deliberately creating sonic booms off the coast of Galveston, Texas, since Monday in the hope that residents on the barrier island community won’t be too bothered by the sound of an F/A-18 aircraft briefly going supersonic.

That’s because the research jet is performing a dive maneuver designed to reduce the normally thunderous sonic boom to what NASA calls a “quiet thump,” more like the sound of a car door slamming.

The test flights are aimed at measuring the community response to the new, quieter booms and are part of NASA’s larger effort to develop a new, more muted supersonic plane that might be able to fly over land.

Current regulations prohibit flights over land that generate sonic booms. The last supersonic airliner was the Concorde, which flew only routes over the ocean, but it stopped service in 2003. There are a currently a few efforts afoot, like one from the startup Boom, to bring back those flights with new planes in the next decade.

The first flight of NASA’s new, experimental plane is still years away, but the data being collected from volunteers in Galveston this week could play an important role in its development.

So far, after the first few days of booms and/or quiet thumps along the gulf coast, the results seem to be mixed. While some have reported rattling windows from the booms, some unbothered beachgoers mistook the sound for distant thunder, according to local media.