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Orbital Sciences Mission Ends in Fiery Explosion [VIDEO]

Oct 29, 2014 01:04 AM EDT
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An unmanned rocket bound for the International Space Station (ISS) exploded immediately after falling from the air above NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday evening, suffering from a "vehicle anomaly" that led to "catastrophic failure."

The rocket in question, an Antares rocket from Orbital Sciences, was carrying a small unmanned Cygnus cargo craft laden with 5,000 pounds of basic scientific, maintenance, and food supplies for the ISS. This was the third ISS resupply private space-faring company Orbital Sciences had been contracted to run.

However, the NASA's Administrator of Human Exploration and Operation Director William Gerstenmaier said in a hastily issued statement Tuesday night that "while NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences' third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today's mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies."

A scheduled Progress 57 resupply ship will be launching early Wednesday morning from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (1:09 pm Baikonur time), with almost three tons of food, fuel, and supplies for the station's Expedition 41 crew. (Scroll to read on...)

[Credit: Brad Panovich via NASA live stream]

The rocket achieved lift off without trouble Tuesday night around 6:22 pm (EDT). However, a few seconds after entering the air, it reportedly stopped ascending. Soon after, onlookers say that the first stage of the rocket appeared to fall away. Then the rocket fell to Earth in a tremendous fiery explosion.

Thankfully no one was injured.

"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," Frank Culbertson, Orbital's Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group said in a statement soon after the mishap. "As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident."

Officials are saying that it will take a few weeks to asses exactly how much damage this failure has caused, but the next resupply flight (of eight) as part of Orbital's $1.9 billion contract has been suspended until further notice.

"Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success," Gerstenmaier added, assuring the private company that NASA has not lost faith in them.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk even expressed his sympathies for Orbital Sciences on social media. He has certainly felt their pain, admitting earlier this year that "rockets are tricky" following a similar explosive mishap during testing of a Falcon-9R.

(Photo : NASA/Joel Kowsky) The Orbital Sciences Antares rocket prior to launch.

Nature World News will keep you updated as the story unfolds:

*UPDATE 1* Find out exactly what experiments and equipment were lost with the Cygnus 3 cargo and what private companies are suffering for it.

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