In 2000, famed game designer John Carmack founded Armadillo Aerospace, a company dedicated to building and launching a spacecraft and winning part of X-Prize Foundation's burgeoning purse of prize money. Unfortunately in August 2004, the company's attempt to get a $35,000 rocket off the ground failed spectacularly, generating a Doom-worthy inferno seconds after ignition.
For the next three-plus years Armadillo Aerospace has tested and fined-tuned its designs to prevent another disaster. Over the weekend, Carmack and company again took to the proving ground, this time to vie for $350,000 in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, part of this year's X-Prize competition.
Sadly, Armadillo's attempts went up in smoke--literally--when the vehicle tipped over and exploded just seconds before it would have won the prize by hovering for 180 seconds and then landing on a simulated moonscape. Pieces of the vehicle reportedly flew off in all directions in the explosion, which caused a fire large enough for Carmack to call for emergency assistance.
"From the field, we heard a little bit of a boom and there was a hard start on the engine of some type," X-Prize Foundation chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis told Space.com, which snapped a photo of the ensuing flames from afar (pictured). Carmack was more circumspect, saying only, "Today is officially a bad day when it comes to our vehicle."