NASA test sparks grass fire

June 1, 2011 8:44:19 PM PDT
We've learned that NASA's testing of this vehicle is what caused the large grass fire at the Johnson Space Center. This incident raises a lot of questions about how NASA conducts these tests, especially during such dry conditions.

Wednesday's project involved a test firing of Morpheus, a NASA lander still in development; but with drought conditions still prevailing, it quickly turned into project grassfire.

A 10-15-acre grassfire sparked by a NASA test rocket came within 150 yards of Katy Taylor's Clear Lake home.

"I was amazed. I thought that it was going to take in our houses because it was so close," Taylor said.

Taylor has lived on the other side of Johnson Space Center's fence for 10 years but what happened on Wednesday was a first.

"This big, white, grayish cloud of smoke was coming up," she said.

A May 4 test in the same location went as planned. Morpheus is a NASA-designed vehicle large enough to carry as much as 1,100 pounds of equipment to the moon.

But on Wednesday, its thrusters ignited dried grass overtaken by drought conditions.

While burn bans are in place in county areas, Clear Lake isn't under one.

"We knew there was a possibility that a grass fire would start and we had fire personnel on site with us watching it and just were ready to call for help if we needed it," NASA Spokeswoman Brandy Dean said.

Fire personnel present were inadequate and ill-equipped, and six different surrounding city fire departments were called in.

"Their fire specialists generally just have fire extinguishers," said Houston Fire Department District Chief Valerie Seymour. "They don't have fire trucks. They usually use us for that."

NASA says they are planning another test run for Morpheus but have not yet decided on a date.

"They should've wet it down first if they were gonna do that," Taylor said.

Houston Fire Station No. 7 says they were notified about the test firing but weren't on site when it took place. Luckily, they were able to respond quickly.

NASA also got lucky that Morpheus didn't sustain any damage.

No injuries were reported from the fire.

If you caught photos or video of this fire, you can upload them at iWitness.abc13.com or email them to news@abc13.com.


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