Massive rocket explosion sparks investigation

The explosion of a commercial Antares rocket shortly after liftoff Tuesday evening has prompted an investigation by NASA and the private company that built it.

An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket explodes in flames during a failed launch on Oct. 28, 2014 from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The rocket was carrying an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft filled with 5,000 lbs. of supplies for the International Space Station.

The explosion of a commercial Antares rocket just seconds after lifting off from Virginia's Eastern Shore Tuesday night has touched off an in-depth investigation into the launch failure by NASA and the rocket's builder, the Orbital Sciences Corporation.

The Antares rocket exploded in a massive fireball just after its 6:22 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT) launch on Tuesday evening (Oct. 28) from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The rocket was carrying an unmanned Cygnus spacecraft — also built by Orbital — that was packed with about 2.5 tons of supplies for astronauts on the International Space Station.

Orbital Sciences, based in Dulles, Virginia, will lead the investigation into the Antares rocket launch failure, with the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA supporting the company's analysis. No one was injured during the rocket explosion, according to NASA and Orbital, and it is too early to tell what caused the failure. [See photos of the Antares rocket explosion]

"As far as the next steps for Antares, we will not fly until we understand the root cause and the corrective action necessary to ensure this doesn't happen again," Orbital Sciences executive vice president Frank Culbertson said during a news conference after the rocket failure. "It's way too early to tell how long that might take. We will go through the proper processes. We will do it professionally and thoroughly … But I can assure you that we will find out what went wrong. We will correct it, and we will fly again."

The Cygnus spacecraft was carrying about 5,000 lbs. (2,268 kilograms) of food, science supplies and other items when the rocket failure occurred. If the launch had gone off as planned, it would have kicked off Orbital Sciences' third resupply mission to the space station under a $1.9 billion contract for eight flights to the orbiting outpost for NASA.

Another company, the California-based firm SpaceX, has a separate contract for $1.6 billion to fly 12 robotic cargo delivery missions using its own Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX has flown four of those missions so far.

Orbital Sciences representatives do not yet know if the failure is related to the failed test of an AJ26 rocket engine (the type of rocket engines used in the Antares first stage) last May.

While Tuesday's launch failure is disappointing, the crewmembers on the space station have more than enough supplies onboard the orbiting outpost, according to Mike Suffredini, the head of NASA's International Space Station program office.

"We did inform the crew immediately after it [the launch failure] occurred," Suffredini said during the news conference. "We actually had the feed up to them, so they were witness to it. They were disappointed … Of course, they are well aware that they have plenty of resources on orbit to get along for some time and the vehicles that are getting up there in the near-term."

Russian officials are planning to launch an unmanned Progress cargo ship to the space station from Russia in the wee hours of Wednesday morning (Oct. 29), and SpaceX's fifth cargo mission is scheduled to launch in early December.

Two members of Congress also expressed their feelings about the failed launch.

"We add our disappointment to the thousands in the space community who worked tirelessly in support of Tuesday evening's launch attempt at Wallops Island," Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) said in a joint statement. "We are relieved to hear there are no reported fatalities, and we anticipate learning more about the circumstances surrounding the launch failure in the near future."

Smith is the chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, while Palazzo serves as the chair on the committee's Space subcommittee.

Editor's note: NASA officials are urging residents of the area around the launch site to keep away from any rocket debris that might wash up on shore or be found on land. If you think you may have found pieces of the rocket, please call the incident response team at (757) 824-1295.

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebookand Google+. Original article on

Copyright 2014, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Massive rocket explosion sparks investigation
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today