Commercial supply rocket explodes at liftoff
Cape Canaveral, Fla – . — An unmanned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff Tuesday evening, with debris falling in flames over the launch site in Virginia. No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA’s commercial spaceflight effort.
The accident at Orbital Sciences Corp.’s launch complex at Wallops Island was sure to draw criticism over the space agency’s growing reliance on private U.S. companies in this post-shuttle effort.
NASA is paying billions of dollars to Orbital Sciences and the SpaceX company to make station deliveries, and it’s counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start flying U.S. astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as 2017. NASA spokesman Rob Navias said there was nothing on the lost flight that was urgently needed by the six people living on the space station.
Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket blew up over the launch complex, just six seconds after the liftoff. The company said everyone at the site had been accounted for, and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities.
Flames could be seen shooting into the sky as the sun set. There was no hint of any trouble until the rocket exploded. This was the second launch attempt for the mission. Monday evening’s try was thwarted by a stray sailboat in the rocket’s danger zone.
“We will understand what happened — hopefully soon — and we’ll get things back on track,” Orbital Sciences’ executive vice president Frank Culbertson told his team an hour after the failure.
The roomful of engineers and technicians were ordered to maintain all computer data for the ensuing investigation.
The Cygnus cargo ship Tuesday had held 5,000 pounds of experiments and equipment. By coincidence, the Russian Space Agency was proceeding with its own supply run today.
All the scientists and students behind the science experiments aboard the Cygnus were surely devastated.
About one-third of the capsule’s contents involved research. Among the instruments that were lost: a meteor tracker and 32 mini research satellites, along with numerous experiments compiled by schoolchildren.