Last week, NASA pulled off one of its greatest feats ever by safely landing a one-ton robotic rover named Curiosity over 150 million miles away on Mars. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the space administration is already working on the next generation of planetary landers, and NASA is aiming to make them as green as possible. The effort got off to a rather rough start this week, though, when The Morpheus, a methane-powered, spider-like craft, crashed and exploded during a test flight at Kennedy Space Center.

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The Morpheus Project is a $7 million experiment that NASA is using to try to learn if it can build a “cheap, environmentally friendly planetary lander.” The lander has been built with low-cost, off-the-shelf materials in an attempt to see if it could also be fueled with cheaper, more readily available and environmentally friendly rocket fuel. If successful, the Morpheus will be used as a potential lander for places like the moon or an asteroid, carrying a human-like robot or small rover.

While methane is technically a greenhouse gas, NASA are promoting the Morpheus as the ‘greenest lander yet’ as it is much more environmentally friendly than the toxic rocket fuels currently used. Methane is also the main component of natural gas, and thus cheaper to produce. NASA even believes it could be made from ice on the moon or Mars.

Unfortunately, the lander’s test flight didn’t go to well with the prototype crashing and exploding. But despite the inauspicious start, NASA isn’t backing down. Speaking to the press, spokeswoman Brandi Dean said that the fault probably lay in the lander’s GPS systems. Construction has already begun on a new lander. “Hopefully, we’ll be testing again before too long,” said Dean.

+ Project Morpheus

via Project Design and Development

Images: NASA/Morpheus Lander