The unmanned Morpheus lander, which NASA hopes might one day deliver up 1,100 pounds of cargo to the moon or other bodies in our solar system, rose off the launch pad at around 12:40 p.m. ET on Thursday. It then promptly flopped over and crashed, exploding.
In a statement, NASA said,
"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. 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 uses liquid oxygen and methane propellants, which are safer and cheaper to operate than traditional liquid hydrogen and hydrazine fuels and can be stored for longer periods in space. It has been dubbed a "green" lander because of this.
Jon Olansen, Morpheus project manager, said the space agency has spent about $7 million on the project over two and a half years. The prototype that crashed was "in the $500,000 class," in terms of cost.
Olansen added that another prototype is currently under construction at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and might be complete within two to three months, and that "We (the project team) want to make sure that what we learn today gets applied to that next vehicle."