Morpheus: NASA’s unmanned lander and flying test lab

Big ideas can come from talk at the dinner table.

NASA engineer Stephen Altemus learned that years ago after a chat with his 15-year-old son at dinner inspired NASA’s latest unmanned prototype spacecraft.

CNN takes a look at how the planetary lander and flying test lab works.

Our galaxy is 100-thousand light years wide with roughly two-hundred billion stars, and there are entire planetary systems to still be discovered.

Exploring that is costly.

The U.S. has spent $1.5-trillion on space activities since 1959 and 14 astronauts have lost their lives.

So how do we continue to reap the rewards of space without the huge cost?

Here’s a look at NASA’s unmanned planetary lander and flying test laboratory called the Morpheus Project.

It’s about the size of a Chevrolet Suburban, and it’s modest $13-million price tag gives it unparalleled freedom to push the boundaries of space.

Morpheus is fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen which is significant because these propellants can actually be manufactured in space.

This means a craft using this fuel could conceivable refuel on a distant planet and continue deeper into space.

Another key technology being tested on Morpheus is an ultra advanced navigation system.

This positioning system allows Morpheus to take off, land, and avoid hazards on its own – meaning a future unmanned craft using this could touchdown on distant moons or planets without risk to human life.

Despite its potential, Project Morpheus has its setbacks.

NASA has lost one test vehicle, but has since completed 11 successful flights.

Morpheus isn’t slated to leave our atmosphere anytime soon. It’s still in testing, but this project is another milestone in mankind’s dream to explore strange, new worlds.

Footage and images from CNN; NASA; European Southern Observatory; iReporter: Jim Denny; ESA; Pumpbox

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