By Francisco Casillas |Staff Writer|
An unmanned cargo rocket heading to the International Space Station (ISS) exploded Tuesday night, only seconds after initial liftoff in Virginia in what NASA is calling a “catastrophic anomaly.”
At 6:22 p.m., only six seconds after liftoff, a spark ignited in the lower section of the 14-story-high Antares rocket, resulting in an explosion and then “falling to earth,” according to NASA officials.
Designed by Orbital Sciences Corporation, the cargo rocket carried 5,000 pounds of supplies, equipment, and science experiments to the ISS, according to a report released by NASA. This included Cygnus, the spacecraft that would make the final stage to the space station, which resulted in a loss of $200 million.
This would have been Orbital Sciences’ third of eight planned cargo missions to the ISS as part of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“Loss is a really tough business in this demanding job,” stated William Gernstemaier, associate administrator of Human Exploration and Operations at NASA during its press conference in Washington.
“But we have complete confidence in Orbital to get back to flying when they are ready to go flying,”
NASA officials stated that no one was injured as a result of the failure.
Immediately after the explosion, the Wallops Incident Response Team warned the public to not pick up the debris and to call the response team if found in neighboring areas. NASA referenced the debris that might have washed up ashore as potentially toxic.
“Rocket fuel is toxic. A small exposure to it may cause damage and it may cause death if people [are] exposed to a large content of it. That’s why they should to get the press as far away as possible,” said CSUSB Physics Professor Laura Woodney.
On Wednesday, the response team completed an initial assessment of Wallops Island in East Virginia following the failure. The assessment concluded that the launch facility where the liftoff took place suffered “severe damages.”
But a full evaluation to determine what caused the failure is still under investigation.
“It’s hard to give out a specific timeline of what occurred because we’re under a complete lock down. But it will take several weeks to analyze videos and data and figure out what happened so we can get back up to the station,” stated Senior Vice President of Orbital Sciences Space Program Frank L. Culbertson in a press conference.
According to NASA’s International Space Program Manager, Mike Suffredini, at the press conference, the ISS still has enough supplies to last them until the end of the year.
“Rockets fail. It happens,” said Woodney.
“This is how science works. It takes 10 to 15 years of planning and that’s why you see scientists cheering loudly on television once a mission is successful,” added Woodney.
Business Administration student Xena Deering commented on who is responsible for the failure.
“It was pretty devastating to hear the news. But it doesn’t matter. If [Orbital] didn’t follow the protocols and procedures then they should be reprimanded,” said Deering.
Last month, NASA granted contracts to private companies Boeing and SpaceX to fly astronauts out to the ISS beginning in 2017, according to The New York Times.
On Wednesday, a Russian cargo rocket carrying more than 1,000 pounds of supply cargo safely reached the ISS, hours after NASA’s failure.
On Dec. 9, SpaceX is scheduled to launch their fifth resupply mission.
NASA confirmed that they will replace some of its planned contents with supply cargo that was supposed to launch on Tuesday.