WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — An Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying an unmanned cargo craft bound for the International Space Station exploded into flames Tuesday evening moments after launch at NASA’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Wallops Island, Virginia.
The countdown had seemed routine and the rocket lifted off as scheduled at 6:22 p.m. EDT, but then burst into a fireball seconds later. The debris crashed down on the launching pad, spreading fiery wreckage around the area.
Live commentary as rocket bound for International Space Station explodes
NASA said all personnel are accounted for and no one was injured.
This was the first catastrophic launch failure since NASA began its commercial spaceflight effort.
The rocket was constructed by Orbital Sciences Corp., which contracts with NASA to supply the ISS. A statement from Orbital said the company has formed an “anomaly investigation board” which will work with government agencies on a probe into the explosion.
“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,” said Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President. “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.”
At a press conference held a few hours after the explosion, Culbertson said crews will begin to piece together what went wrong at daybreak.
“We don’t have any early indication of exactly what might have failed but we need some time to take a look at that,” he said. All of the damage on the ground seemed to be confined to the launch pad area, but that will also be determined later.
William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said at the press conference that the crew aboard the International Space Station was in no danger and had enough resources to last them considerably.
“What’s important is that we understand what happened, and that we fix it with some confidence,” he said. “I think we’ll learn from this and this will be valuable to us as we move forward.”
In a statement, NASA said it plans to continue launches to the ISS.
“We will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap,” the statement read.