Unmanned Antares Rocket Destroyed Shortly After Launch

Photo Courtesy: Joel Kowsky/NASA
Corallys Plasencia / Correspondent

Tuesday night marked a major loss for NASA as the Antares rocket carrying more than 5,000 pounds of cargo, including various science experiments and equipment, exploded just seconds after take-off. Based in NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the rocket was set on a mission to send the various science equipment along with food and other necessary supplies to the International Space Station.

Problems became apparent immediately after launch which led to the controlled self-destruction of the rocket owned by the company. “We do want to express our disappointment that we weren’t able to fulfill our obligation to the International Space Station program and deliver this load of cargo,” said Frank Culbertson, the general manager of Orbital Sciences’ Advanced Programs Group. “Especially to the researchers who had science on-board and the people that were counting on the various hardware and components that were going to the station”, he remarked.

Thankfully, no injuries were reported after the fiery explosion, but some damage was sustained to the launch pad. Decisions were made to terminate the rocket due to problems in it that could have prevented it to enter into orbit and possibly causing damage to the underlying areas. “They commanded the destruct system to make sure it didn’t wind up in a populated area when they knew it wasn’t going to make it to orbit,” mentions Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut and a SpaceX advisory member. He said it was the right call.

Many of the experiments ranged from student projects to high tech cameras, one in particular that would have been the first to monitor meteors from space called Meteor. “There was no cargo that’s absolutely critical to us that was lost on this flight,” added NASA administrator Bill Gerstenmaier. The group of experts will now try to get together a whole new set of equipment to replace the one lost to send to the next available launch to the ISS.

NASA also lost a small experimental satellite that was planned to study climate changes in the earth and its environment using water vapor measurements in the atmosphere.

It is now being questioned whether or not old faulty Russian engines were being using when constructing the rocket as mentioned by Frank Culbertson, Orbital Science’s executive vice president. “We need to go through this investigation and be very thorough before we determine whether that’s a factor in this or not,” he said.

There have been many missions previously; this being the fifth attempted launch of the Antares rocket. Although not the first explosion of its kind, there is a lengthy history of rocket explosions throughout time with an estimated 450 failed launches of unmanned rockets since the Sputnik era in 1957.