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NASA’s first untethered test of ‘green’ planetary lander not so environmentally friendly

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By Doug Powers  •  August 10, 2012 04:54 PM

**Written by Doug Powers

NASA is riding a wave of excitement following the awesome landing of Curiosity millions of miles away on Mars. More locally, the agency is trying to make their machines “greener” just in case there’s an extraterrestrial equivalent of Ed Begley, Jr. living in the Omega Centauri galaxy we’ll need to impress someday.

With that goal in mind, here’s a little background on the Morpheus lander:

So far NASA has spent $7 million on the Morpheus program, but that includes parts for a still-to-be-built second lander.

Morpheus is a prototype for a cheap, environmentally friendly planetary lander. Thursday was the first time it had been tested untethered in a free flight. It had performed 19 flights at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where it was designed and made, and one more in Florida, but it was always tethered to a crane, Dean said.

The testing moved from Texas to Florida last week and Morpheus had a successful tether test on Friday. NASA had planned to run tests for three months. The plan was for flights over a specially created field designed to mimic the surface of the moon, with boulders, rocks, slopes and craters.

The lander was built mostly with low-cost, off-the-shelf materials. It was an attempt by NASA to use cheaper, more readily available and environmentally friendly rocket fuel. The space agency was considering it as a potential lander for places like the moon or an asteroid, figuring it would carry a human-like robot or small rover.

The first untethered test flight of the “green” lander was yesterday. Roll tape, and tell Gore to go sell a few extra carbon credits to make up for this (epic green kaboomage at 1:56):

Earlier prototypes of “green” landers were basically Chevy Volts with algae-fueled rockets strapped to them, and that didn’t go very well either.

**Written by Doug Powers

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