(CNN) - An unmanned moon lander under development crashed and blew up during an engine test Thursday afternoon at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the space agency reported.
There were no injuries in the failed test of the lander, dubbed "Morpheus." The craft had gone through several previous exercises in which it was hung from a crane, but Thursday was to have been its first free flight.
Instead, the prototype rose a short distance, rolled over and slammed into the ground. The craft caught fire immediately and exploded about 30 seconds later.
"The vehicle itself is lost," Jon Olansen, the Morpheus project manager, told reporters. "But we are working currently on gathering more data and information to understand what occurred in the test and how we can learn from it and move forward."
Olansen said operators have recovered memory devices from the wreckage and will be pulling the data off of them for clues to the cause of the accident.
"From early indications, it seems to be within our guidance navigation control system, seems to point toward hardware," Olansen said.
In a written statement, NASA said failure is "part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware," and designers will learn from whatever caused Thursday's crash.
The Morpheus lander is designed to carry up to 1,100 pounds of cargo for a future moon mission. Its engines are fueled partly by methane, which the agency says is easier to handle and store than other propellants such as liquid hydrogen or hydrazine.
Olansen said the space agency has spent about $7 million on the project over two and a half years, and the test lander lost Thursday was "in the $500,000 class." Another one is currently under construction at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and may be complete in two to three months.
"We want to make sure that what we learn today gets applied to that next vehicle," he said.
By John Couwels, CNN
Mims, Florida (CNN) – As John Bundy loads his red commercial lawn mower into a flatbed trailer, it's hard to believe he used to manage a team of NASA shuttle workers.
Bundy, who sports a scruffy beard and speaks with a thick, Southern drawl, worked at the Kennedy Space Center for 31 years, the last six years as a manager in the Orbiter Processing Facility, a shuttle hangar.
Bundy is one of 8,000 shuttle workers laid off or facing termination from Florida's Kennedy Space Center after the end of NASA's shuttle program. This month marks one year since the program ended with the launch and landing of Shuttle Atlantis.
We've all seen them: photos of the latest NASA shuttle lifting off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. Many of those images have come from the same group of professional press photographers, including Scott Andrews with Canon. Andrews, who has a background in engineering, created a specialized trigger to capture close-up images of the shuttle liftoff.
Recently, Andrews' son Philip, a college graduate, joined his father capturing the final shuttle launches. As the shuttle program’s end comes with Thursday’s scheduled landing of Atlantis, CNN's John Couwels followed the photographers that captured American history.