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NASA lander prototype ditches the manpower for an autonomous flight (video)

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Hear that? Those were the giddy giggles of some very happy scientists down at NASA's Alabama-based Marshall Space Flight Center. Besting its previous June record for autonomous flight, this prototype robotic lander hovered for nearly half a minute at a height of seven feet before parking itself safely on the ground. Conceived as a joint project between NASA, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Von Braun Center for Science and Innovation, the intelligent bot is slated to go where its parachuting, aero-braking cousins can't -- like the Moon, or an asteroid. Future tests are on deck for the self-propelled lander to hover up to one hundred feet over the short span of a minute -- no doubt its current feat is pretty neat, but we wouldn't want to be the unsuspecting dolt who walked under it without his infrared goggles on.

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