On Tuesday evening, an unmanned NASA –contracted rocket exploded in midair soon after launch, producing huge flames. No one was injured during the explosion, which occurred six seconds after the rocket was launched.
Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket and the Cygnus cargo spacecraft had been scheduled to launch at 6:22 PM ET from the Wallops Flight Faculty. The rocket was transporting approximately 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.
Total costs of the rocket and spacecraft were over $200 million, Frank Culbertson, general manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group said. Apart from the obvious damage to the rocket and spacecraft, there is also damage that includes the launchpad, although it isn’t yet clear how much.
“Tonight’s events really show the difficulty that it takes for us to do this task of delivering cargo to the space station,”
Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA administrator said.
Initially, the rocket had been scheduled for Monday, however, plans were modified:
“because of a boat down range in the trajectory Antares would have flown had it lifted off.”
David Weydert, Coast Guard spokesman said.
However, on Tuesday, everything seemed perfect, from 100% favorable weather to “no technical concerns with the rocket or spacecraft.” Soon after the launch, the sky brightened.
“And then, all of a sudden, you see a big fireball,”
said Ed Encina, a Baltimore Sun reporter.
According to witnesses, the flames enveloped approximately 100-yeards around the launchpad.
“About 30 seconds later, we could hear and feel two booms reach us, and it was apparent the rocket had exploded,”
Dymetria Sellers , CNN reporter said, after watching the launch from a drawbridge.
“It takes a lot of propellant to take a spacecraft of that size moving 25 times the speed of sound. So when it fails, it’s usually pretty catastrophic.”
Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut said, explaining the colossal fire.
Authorities reported that safety parameters all seemed to have been in order, noting the lack of casualties.
“All we lost was hardware. That hardware, however, is very important.. What we know so far is pretty much what everybody saw on the video. The ascent stopped, there was some, let’s say disassembly, of the first stage, and then it fell to Earth. … We don’t really have any early indications of exactly what might have failed, and we need some time to look at that.”
said Culbertson when asked about what had happened that lead to the rocket’s explosion. An investigation will be led by Orbital along with the Federal Aviation Administration, to see what went wrong.