Authorities are warning beachgoers to look out for wreckage from the SpaceX rocket that exploded Sunday off the Florida-Georgia coast, dealing another blow to NASA and showering potentially toxic or explosive materials into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the Coast Guard works with the private spaceflight company to monitor the debris, now floating some 150 miles off the coast, visitors who spot any pieces washed ashore or in the sea should get to a safe distance and report it immediately, reported The Florida Times-Union.
“As with any incident involving spacecraft wreckage, debris should not be handled by members of the public,” said Capt. Jeffrey Dixon, Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville commander, in a news release. “These critical pieces of evidence are important in the investigation process and should be reported immediately to SpaceX or the US Coast Guard.”
Officials warned Monday that the tide might wash debris ashore in the next three to five days, advising the public to steer clear and not use cell phones near any sighted wreckage, according to Florida Today. Though one mother at the beach told Orlando’s WESH 2 News she was worried that her children might unknowingly come into contact with the debris, another man dismissed the alert as nothing new.
“This isn't the first explosion we've had,” Paul Eaton, a resident of Cape Canaveral, Florida for more than 40 years, told WESH 2. “We've had maybe 15 or 20 over the years, and since it is over the ocean, it isn't likely that most of it will end up in the Cocoa Beach area.”
The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket had been on its way to the International Space Station Sunday when it broke apart about two and a half minutes into its flight from Cape Canaveral. More than 5,000 pounds of supplies were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew flights, reported The Associated Press.
A NASA representative said data from the rocket stopped transmitting when it exploded, but SpaceX founder Elon Musk later announced on Twitter that the explosion was the result of an “overpressure event in the upper-stage liquid oxygen tank.”
It was another in a series of setbacks for America’s space program, which has faced continual pressure to break away from Russia’s Roscosmos agency by using private contractors to deliver astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station. The agency retired its own manned spaceflight effort, the Space Shuttle program, in 2011 to focus on other initiatives. Some experts maintain that US astronauts' reliance on Russian spacecraft amid hardening relations endangers national security.
In past flights, SpaceX had proved a relatively successful contender, showing signs of momentum as its previous six cargo missions appeared to go well and its Crew Dragon capsule, designed to eventually carry astronauts, passed its first flight test in May.