The NASA Rocket That Hovers Like a Helicopter (but Could Land on Mars)

Today, Florida; Tomorrow, Mars
NASA

Yesterday, a NASA test vehicle lifted off from the ground in Florida, flew freely through the air, and landed about 650 feet away. It landed, crucially, in the same position it launched—upright—and that makes it look kind of like a science fiction film. You can watch the awesome video below:

It’s called Morpheus. While it may never fly in space in its current form, Morpheus is designed to be a useful prototype mission for the space agency, something that engineers can learn and borrow ideas and mechanisms from. It runs on liquid oxygen and methane, two fuels which could be made on other planets. It’s also designed to land on rocky or unstable terrain—notice how, at the end of this video, it lands on soil that’s downright Martianesque.

Morpheus is, in fact, one of 20 projects that NASA is developing as part of its Advanced Exploration Systems program, which pushes at the edge of the agency’s capabilities. The projects range from deep space habitats to radiation protection, from imaging near-Earth asteroids to automating the flight of the International Space Station. NASA is, in fact, asking for a larger budget for the program in 2015 (even as it seems to be making many other harmful cuts). 

NASA isn’t the only organization developing a rocket like this. Last year, SpaceX—the private space company owned by Elon Musk—successfully tested a rocket which takes off and lands vertically, which it calls the Grasshopper, and which it filmed with (what else?) a drone.

Presented by

Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. Who cares about youth? James Hamblin turns to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg for advice.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Never Tell People How Old They Look

Age discrimination affects us all. James Hamblin turns to a colleague for advice.

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

Video

Pittsburgh: 'Better Than You Thought'

How Steel City became a bikeable, walkable paradise

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

More in Technology

Just In