August 10th, 2012
09:59 AM ET

Moon lander prototype blows up in NASA test

(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.

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soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. M.F. Luder

    Neil Armstrong was almost killed in a similar manned test during the Apollo days.

    August 16, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  2. nicolas

    I wonder the carbon footprint of all the space race... how much of the global warming is due to this... and I save electricity, gas and paper...

    August 12, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  3. Portland tony

    It appears, at least as reported, that this lander was put together on the cheap. $500K wouldn't buy you too much in the way of hardware let alone any engineering. The article does point out that the program's total cost is in the $8M range which spread over a couple of years wouldn't get you an NBA Player or a prototype for a new Ford truck. This is probably a proof of concept vehicle and
    nothing more.

    August 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm |

    You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?

    August 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  5. Steve Tsuida

    This lander has an entirely different payload, and thus an entirely different geometry than the 60’s lander. That lander couldn't land this mission. Even so, you can find lots of archive footage of the Apollo landers crashing during tests.

    August 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  6. pollapaev

    Right. But we made it with men inside throughout the late 60s and early'd think we could just use the LEM models that supposedly worked the first time around.

    August 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  7. dreamer96

    I sure hope NASA uses this opportunity to cover the final version of this moon lander with a lightweight fiberglass body that looks like the "JETSON'S" fllying car... Or Bruce Willis's Taxi from "The Fifth Element"....just the thought of a symbol of true Americana entertainment surviving for thousands of years on the Moon would be so cool...

    August 10, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  8. Doug

    Why did'nt they use the same craft that alledgedly landed people on the moon?

    August 10, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • dreamer96

      You know there has been a brain drain at NASA, from the days of the Moon missions.. We could not build another Saturn Five Rocket even if we wanted to...The engineers that did that, are all dead now...and much of what they knew is lost...

      August 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
      • BD

        Ridiculous. No engineering knowledge has been "lost" at NASA. The invention of written language pretty much guarantees that science only moves in one direction. Technology has moved forward.

        August 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
      • dallasphotog79

        Really? That is one of the dumbest comments I have ever heard. Did you not watch the Mars Rover landing? That was a very complex setup.

        August 11, 2012 at 12:00 am |
      • Ultraquark

        Engneering fundamentals don't get lost, but the "how to" and lessons learned from mistakes, and test experience does. And project reports dont cover everything (engineers arent alway the best writers also). Text books don't tell you how to properly build a lunar lander - a lot of that is proprietary to private companies or govt. And unfortunately information isn't always shared across projects. A lot of the knowledge exists in people's minds - that why skill sets have to be passed from one generation to the next. Otherwise the new generations have to relearn how to do things that have been done before but were halted. Add to that the fact that the aerospace business doesn't have enough young engineers to replace the retiring ones. Add to that the fact that rocket science is difficult period.

        August 11, 2012 at 2:10 am |
  9. KP

    Torn between a witty reference to The Matrix or a snide comment about how most of the hardware probably came from China...

    August 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm |


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