An unmanned commercial supply Antares rocket contracted by NASA bound for the International Space Station exploded within 6 seconds after liftoff Tuesday evening. The catastrophic accident at Orbital Sciences Corp.’s launch complex at Wallops Island, VA. According to all accounts, there were no injuries following the first catastrophic launch in NASA’s commercial spaceflight 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. The restrictions are in case of just such an accident that occurred Tuesday.
The tale of the engine that propelled the Antares rocket, which exploded in a spectacular ball of flame in Virginia Tuesday night, begins four decades ago, thousands of miles away, in the land of communism and Sputnik. There, in the Soviet Union, rocket scientists conceived and built dozens of rocket engines meant to power Russian astronauts into the cosmos. But it didn’t work out that way.
Instead, all four launches of the mighty N1 Soviet rocket, which used an earlier iteration of the engine used in Thursday’s launch, failed between 1969 and 1972. And as the Soviet Union abandoned the idea of putting cosmonauts on the moon, those engines languished in Russia “without a purpose,” reported Space Lift Now.
The rocket was carrying various things, including spacewalk tools for the space station, flight equipment, food, books and computer resources for the crew.
Its total cargo was 4,883 pounds (2215 kilograms).
“It’s not as tragic as losing a life associated with it and so, we’re very happy to report that there were no injuries,” said Frank Culbertson, an executive vice president at Orbital Sciences Corp. ” That hardware, however, it’s very important and very high value to the company and to our customers.”
Stay away and do not touch, authorities warn.
As officials launch an investigation into the explosion, they are warning curious onlookers to stay away from the accident site and avoid any desire to collect souvenirs.
“The investigation will include evaluating the debris that we will find around the launch pad and everything associated with that,” Culbertson said.
“I do want to caution the public … this is an accident site and it’s a rocket and it had a lot of hazardous materials on board that people should not be looking for or wanting to collect souvenirs over. If you find anything that washes ashore in the local area or came down in your farm or in your yard, please make sure that you will call …. local authorities.”