A prototype NASA lander completed a successful free flight on Sept. 5, helping to bring a new generation of landing vehicles closer to reality.
The Mighty Eagle flew up to 100 feet, identified an on-the-ground target with its onboard cameras, and then autonomously landed itself at the chosen spot. The successful flight is part of a series of incremental tests to mature this technology.
The prototype brings to mind earlier Apollo-era test crafts such as the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, which nearly killed astronaut Neil Armstrong during a training maneuver in 1968.
The cute three-legged lander stands at 4 feet high and 8 feet in diameter, so it’s not designed to carry astronauts. Instead, NASA engineers are hoping that such a vehicle could one day autonomously land cargo and scientific instruments on the moon, an asteroid, or other airless body in the solar system.