Prototype NASA Lander Crashes in Florida Test

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An experimental NASA lunar lander crashed Aug. 9 during its first free-flight test, erupting in a ball of flame after it hit the ground.

The unmanned Morpheus lander barely got off the pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida before toppling over and exploding.

“During today’s free-flight test of the Project Morpheus vehicle, it lifted off the ground and then experienced a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight,” NASA said in a statement. “No one was injured, and the resulting fire was extinguished by KSC fire personnel.

“Engineers are looking into the incident, and the agency will release information as it becomes available.”

The Morpheus lander is powered by a new engine fueled by liquid oxygen and methane. Morpheus was also testing out automated landing-hazard avoidance technology.

Prior to the free-flight test, the experimental lander was tested in a series of tethered flights at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as well as one at KSC Aug. 3.

The lander, which is about the size of a sport utility vehicle, was built and assembled at Johnson and the facilities of private spaceflight firm Armadillo Aerospace.