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Ranger prototype craft.

The Ranger Test Ship was a prototype atmospheric and interplanetary transfer vehicle built by NASA to validate the flight-worthiness of the Ranger's design.

According to the novelization, the Ranger was built under the guise as a crew vehicle for a future mission to Mars. However, due to the resource wars caused by the Blight, NASA was officially dissolved and was ordered to continue developing the Ranger in secret. Fourteen more Rangers would be built and flown for the Lazarus Missions and for the Endurance.

Test pilot Joseph Cooper was the first to fly the Ranger, but barely made it past the stratosphere. During a high speed test flight over the Straits, a gravitational anomaly caused his instruments to indicate impossible readings, causing his fly-by-wire system to falter. Falsely believing the Ranger was well outside of control and safety parameters, the Ranger's main computer decided to completely deactivate the craft in spite of Cooper's objections. The Ranger spun out of control and took a nose dive, but Cooper managed to eject before it crashed. The memory of the crash haunted him over a decade later, long after he was forced to retire from NASA.