The unmanned Antares rocket and the Cygnus cargo spacecraft was six seconds into liftoff headed to the International Space Station when it burst into a massive explosion at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore. The rocket, which was originally set to lift off Monday night, was stopped during that countdown due to a boat that wandered into the 1,400 mile “danger zone” off the coast of Virginia.
There was no mistaken this ill-fated rocket’s explosion for anything else but a catastrophe on the launch pad. NASA spokesperson Jay Bolden said, “This was a failure to launch,” reports CNN News on Oct. 28. The videos show the rocket rising into the air for a few seconds and then it exploded into a tremendous fireball.
The rocket is then seen plummeting back to Earth. NASA released an update shortly after the initial news of the explosion hit the wires saying that “all personal on the ground is accounted for,” so there were no deaths in this “catastrophic anomaly shortly after liftoff at 6:22 p.m. EDT.” Along with the spacecraft, the rocket was carrying 5,000-pounds of supplies for the space station, along with some science experiments.
NASA later tweeted that the rocket failure occurred six seconds after the launch. The tweet indicated that NASA and Orbital Sciences are “gathering data on the failure.” Baltimore Sun reporter Ed Encina witnessed the explosion told CNN News it looked like everything was fine because the big launch brightened up the sky. “And then all of a sudden you see a big fireball.”
Encina described the noise as a “boom” that shook the ground underneath his feet. The flames enveloped the area around the launch pad in about 100-yard circumference, which is in a marshy area with a lot of brush. CNN reports that the visitor area to watch the launch was at full capacity.
CNN reporter Dymetria Sellers watched the launch from the drawbridge because the visitor’s station was full. She said the launch was a “breathtaking beautiful” sight when the rocket ascended, but that was marred by the blast and the confusion that followed. About 30 seconds after the fireball she could “hear and feel” two booms reach them where they stood on the drawbridge. “It was apparent the rocket had exploded,” she said.
Delmarva Now reports that the boat in the “danger area” on Monday was what caused the launch to be scratched in the middle of the countdown. The leisure craft was not monitoring the proper channel to pick up the numerous calls from the U.S. Coast Guard to move the boat out of harm’s way. It was 40 miles off shore, which seems far, but if the rocket had made it higher in the sky before exploding, the debris field could have easily been scattered in that area.
They even sent a plane out to its location to circle and dip its wing, which is the standard practice when radio contact fails. All attempts to contact the boat failed and because NASA only had a 10-minute window for launch, so when it was apparent the boat could not get out of the “danger zone” before that window was up, they scraped the launch. There was no further information given out about the boat or if it will face fines for holding up the launch.