Orbital Sciences Rocket Explodes Moments After Launch

An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying an unmanned cargo craft bound for the International Space Station exploded into flames Tuesday evening moments after launch at NASA’s Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia.

The countdown had seemed routine and the rocket lifted off as scheduled, but then burst into a fireball seconds later. The debris crashed down on the launching pad, spreading fiery wreckage around the area. NASA said all personnel are accounted for and no one was injured. This was the first catastrophic launch failure since NASA began its commercial spaceflight effort.

The rocket was constructed by Orbital Sciences Corp., which contracts with NASA to supply the ISS. The company’s first statement on the accident, sent via Twitter, provided no insight into what went wrong, saying simply: “There has been a vehicle anomaly. We will update as soon as we are able.”

NASA stated on its website that “a mishap occurred shortly after liftoff,” and promised to provide more information as soon as possible. It said it was working with Orbital Sciences to gather data on the mission’s failure. The rocket was carrying a Cygnus cargo ship loaded with gear for the six crew members living on the space station. It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the ISS; the first flew just over a year ago.

“This mission is going to carry over 5,000 pounds of cargo to the crew, a wide variety of items, everything from science to clothes to food, tools, replacement parts, etc.,” Orbital Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson, a former shuttle commander and space station crew member, said before the launch went bad.

NASA said that in the near term, space station operations will not be impacted by the loss of the cargo ship. It said the Cygnus craft was also carrying science experiments that were destroyed in the crash. The mission would have been Orbital’s third operational space station resupply flight — the fourth including a demonstration mission — under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA. Orbital Sciences made its first flight to the ISS just over a year ago, lifting off on Sept. 18, 2013.

SpaceX holds a similar $1.6 billion contract covering 12 resupply missions. The launch date had originally been set for Monday, but a boat in the vicinity caused officials to scrub it at the a last minute and reschedule for Tuesday. If the launch had been successful it would have been visible along the United States’ eastern seaboard. Source: CBS News

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