SpaceX’s rocket just exploded. Here’s why that’s such a big deal.

March 6, 2016 – 04:50 am

2300-falconSpaceX's unmanned Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday but exploded a few minutes after liftoff. It was on a mission to resupply the International Space Station. (NASA)

An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket bound for the International Space Station exploded a couple of minutes after liftoff Sunday morning. It was the third cargo mission to the space station to be lost in recent months.

Elon Musk, SpaceX's founder tweeted that "there was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank." He added: "That's all we can say with confidence right now. Will have more to say following a thorough" analysis.

NASA officials said it was not clear what caused the explosion. During an afternoon press conference William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said there was "no negligence here."

The three failures from three different launch providers show "the challenges facing engineering and the challenges facing space flight in general."

[Elon Musk’s SpaceX is on a roll, but here’s why the pressure is really on]

The rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 10:21 a.m., and everything seemed fine until 2 minutes at 19 seconds. Then video of the launch showed harrowing, if now familiar, images of a rocket exploding into a plume of smoke. The Falcon 9 was carrying more than 4, 000 pounds of food and supplies to the space station, where American Scott Kelly is spending a year. There were no astronauts onboard.

The explosion also lost many student experiments and a water filtration system. Also onboard was a piece of hardware that would be used to help two new crew vehicles dock to the station.

The failure follows two earlier mishaps, which had put tremendous pressure on SpaceX to deliver a successful flight. An Orbital Antares rocket blew up in October, and then a Russian Progress 59 spun out of control after reaching orbit. The Orbital failure raised questions about NASA's bold plan to outsource the cargo resupply mission to contractors in the wake of the space shuttle retirement in 2011.


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