While NASA celebrates the landmark landing of its Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars, things back home are going a bit less smoothly. The latest prototype of a new, environmentally friendly lunar lander exploded during testing Thursday at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in what may have been a hardware and navigation failure.
The lander flew a short distance before spinning head over tail and plummeting to the ground, where it burst into flame and exploded after about half a minute.
No one was injured during the testing of the lander, nicknamed ‘Morpheus’ after the Greek god of dreams. The test would have marked the first solo flight of the 10-ft-long, 2,300 lb prototype. As USA Today reported, Morpheus “was testing an engine that burned liquid oxygen and liquid methane, a technology NASA believed could benefit future landing or in-space propulsion systems.”
According to Jon Olansen, Morpheus’ project manager, the destruction of the craft — estimated to have cost about $500,000 — was almost complete. While the memory devices that could give a clue to what went wrong were successfully salvaged, in Olansen’s words, “The vehicle itself is lost.”
The team hopes to be able to gather enough data from the craft’s demise to be able to discover what went wrong during the test and fix it in any subsequent prototypes. “We want to make sure that what we learn today gets applied to that next vehicle,” Olansen told CNN.
NASA released a statement saying that failure is “part of the development process” and that they are confident the team will discover what’s wrong and fix the issue. And, let’s not lose sight of the other NASA news: the Curiosity Rover is still on Mars and perhaps the biggest win in space history. So, they’re good.