No one was hurt when an unmanned NASA-contracted rocket exploded early Tuesday evening in Wallops Island, Virginia.
An Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft were launched at 6:22 p.m. EDT from the Wallops Flight Facility, but seconds after liftoff, the rock burst into flames. The explosion was referred to as “a catastrophic anomaly” on a live stream that NASA provided. The spacecraft was loaded with supplies for the International Space Station.
“It’s a difficult and demanding business to deliver cargo to the International Space Station,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of human exploration and operations for NASA, said in a press conference. “We’re disappointed in this activity but we have confidence in Orbital they’ll be ready to fly again.”
He added, “We feel for Orbital and we want them to get flying again as soon as possible.”
There is enough food and water on the International Space Station to last people there for a year.
Another vehicle will reportedly be launched soon. “We will fly again as soon as we can safely and with confidence,” a NASA official said during the press conference. “It’s a disappointment to not be able to deliver that cargo, but we will do so in the future.”
The debris will be evaluated to determine the cause of the explosion. The public is cautioned that the Wallops Island launch site is an accident scene where a rocket exploded. There are hazardous materials people should not collect or touch. People are urged to call officials at 757-824-1295 if they do encounter something that could be hazardous.
"There was failure on launch," NASA spokesman Jay Bolden said, according to CNN. "There was no indicated loss of life."
Bolden added: "There was significant property and vehicle damage. Mission control is trying to assess what went wrong."
“NASA and Orbital Sciences Corp. are gathering data on the failure of the Orbital CRS-3 six seconds after launch. Watch NASA Television for updates,” NASA wrote on its website. “The latest information and a news conference schedule will be posted on this site.”
Witnesses were stunned to see the rocket burst. "Parts were sent flying everywhere, and then the vehicle fell back to the pad, exploding in an even larger fireball, setting the entire area on fire," CollectSpace.com editor Robert Pearlman, who went to the launch, told Space.com.
A colossal fire was to be expected if the spacecraft exploded, Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, told CNN. "It takes a lot of propellant to take a spacecraft of that size moving 25 times the speed of sound," he said, explaining how fast the rocket should have gone on its way to the space station. "So when it fails, it's usually pretty catastrophic."
Before the rocket launched Tuesday, the space agency reported "100% favorable" weather and "no technical concerns with the rocket or spacecraft being worked,” according to the news site.
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