The unmanned Antares rocket carrying supplies for International Space Station (ISS) exploded midair after it was launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia because of a “catastrophic” equipment failure.
Amateur footage of the incident shows the 14-story spacecraft catching flames about six seconds after liftoff then plunging to the ground in a huge ball of fire and smoke.
"What we know so far is pretty much what everybody saw on the video," said Frank Culbertson, the executive vice president of Orbital Sciences Corp – the company behind the mission.
"The ascent stopped, there was some disassembly of the first stage, it looked like, and then it fell to Earth. ... We don't really have any early indications of exactly what might have failed."
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The Antares was carrying a cargo ship named “Cygnus” bound for the ISS – was the first of two such spacecrafts scheduled to head to the space station this week.
Awaiting the arrival of the supplies, the six crew members in orbit aboard the space station - two NASA astronauts, one from the European Space Agency and three Russian cosmonauts - watched the launch via a NASA TV feed, Mike Suffredini, the space station program manager told Reuters
"They were disappointed ... of course they are well aware that they have plenty of resources on orbit," Suffredini told reporters during a conference call.
The cause of the mishap is under investigation, according to Culbertson.