August 09, 2012
NASA’S Project Morpheus lander, an experimental vehicle designed with a view toward future U.S. space missions beyond Earth’s orbit, crashed and burst into flames at the Kennedy Space Center in central Florida on Thursday.
During a so-called autonomous free-flight test, NASA said the vehicle lifted off the ground successfully but “then experienced a hardware component failure, which prevented it from maintaining stable flight.”
No one was injured in the accident, which followed nearly a year of testing on Morpheus at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. But NASA TV footage showed the space capsule engulfed almost totally in flames after the crash, with little left to salvage.
The U.S. space agency said engineers were looking into test data to determine the exact cause of Thursday’s accident, but further details were not immediately available.
“Failures such as these were anticipated prior to the test, and are part of the development process for any complex spaceflight hardware,” NASA said.
The hazard field where Morpheus had been scheduled to undergo about three months of increasingly rigorous tests was located at the north end of Kennedy’s former space shuttle landing facility.
It was designed to mimic the surface of the moon, with an array of boulders, rocks, slopes and craters.
The accident came as NASA scientists were still hailing the Mars rover Curiosity’s decent and landing on the “Red Planet” earlier this week as a “miracle of engineering.”