NASA Rocket Explodes During Launch

NASA Rocket Explodes During LaunchNASA Rocket Explodes During Launch

An unmanned NASA-contracted rocket exploded in midair early Tuesday evening, producing huge flames and loud booms along the eastern Virginia coast but no injuries or deaths, the CNN reported.

Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft had been set to launch at 6:22 p.m. ET from the Wallops Flight Facility along the Atlantic Ocean, carrying roughly 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

It exploded about six seconds after launch.

What was left of the spacecraft and rocket plummeted back to Earth, causing even more flames upon impact.

The rocket and spacecraft -- which together cost more than $200 million, according to Frank Culbertson, the general manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group -- are gone. And there’s obvious damage beyond that, including to the launchpad.

Just before liftoff, NASA reported “100% favorable” weather and “no technical concerns with the rocket or spacecraft being worked.”

It seemed to be going perfectly when Ed Encina saw the launch brighten up the sky from his vantage point about 3 miles away.

“And then, all of a sudden, you see a big fireball,” said Encina, a Baltimore Sun reporter.

Encina recalled a loud boom that caused “your feet (to) shake a little bit,” as well as flames enveloping a roughly 100-yard area around the launchpad in a marshy area with brush.

Orbital will lead the investigation into the incident, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, with NASA assisting.

Among other things, they’ll try to collect and examine any debris that can be recovered, review data from the spacecraft before its destruction and look at videos around the launch time.

A third of the spacecraft’s cargo was material for scientific investigations such as a Houston school’s experiment on pea growth and a study on blood flow in space.

There also were basic supplies meant for the crew of the space station -- now orbiting more than 200 miles above Earth -- including more than 1,300 pounds of food.

NASA assured that the crash would not endanger astronauts on board the station, since they have enough critical supplies to last until March next year.

NASA won’t directly restock them, having relied on private companies to do so since the end of its space shuttle program. That includes Virginia-based Orbital, which had its first of eight planned ISS launches in January out of the Wallops facility as part of its $1.9 billion contract with NASA.

  Russia’s Offer

Russia is prepared to ferry US supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) on its Progress spacecraft to compensate for the loss of the Antares rocket.

“So far NASA has not asked us, but we have a gentleman’s agreement to help each other should a need arise such as after the loss of a supply ship or another emergency,” Aleksey Krasnov, the head of Roscosmos’ manned spaceflight department, told Ria Novosti.

“In such cases we always put our partners on a priority list and they do the same thing for us. If a request comes for an emergency delivery of any cargo to the ISS with our cargo ship, we will do it,” he assured.

A Russian Progress spacecraft with supplies for the ISS was successfully launched with a Soyuz rocket on Wednesday.