(AP) An unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies and a first-of-its-kind docking port to the International Space Station broke apart Sunday shortly after liftoff. It was a severe blow to NASA, still reeling from previous failed shipments.
The accident happened about 2 1/2 minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A billowing white cloud emerged in the sky, growing bigger and bigger, then fiery plumes shot out of where the rocket was supposed to be, and pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic. More than 5, 200 pounds of space station cargo were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew capsules.
“We appear to have had a launch vehicle failure, ” announced NASA commentator George Diller. Data stopped flowing from the Falcon 9 rocket around 2 minutes and 19 seconds, he said. No astronauts were on board.
The rocket shattered while traveling at 2, 900 mph, about 27 miles up. Everything appeared to go well in the flight until the rocket went supersonic.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk later said an over pressurization occurred in the liquid-oxygen tank of the rocket’s upper stage.
“That’s all we can say with confidence right now, ” Musk said via Twitter. “Will have more to say following a thorough fault tree analysis.”
Losing this shipment – which included replacements for items lost in two previous failed supply flights – was a huge setback for NASA in more than one way. The space agency is counting on private industry to transport cargo – and eventually astronauts – to the orbiting lab. The California-based SpaceX is one of the contenders.
This is the second failed station shipment in a row and the third in eight months.
In April, a Russian cargo ship spun out of control and burned up upon re-entry, along with all its precious contents. And last October, an Orbital Sciences Corp. supply ship was destroyed in a launch accident.
This Dragon had been carrying replacement food, clothes and science experiments for items lost in those two mishaps. The seven previous SpaceX supply runs, dating back to 2012, had gone exceedingly well.
The three space station residents were watching the launch live from orbit, including astronaut Scott Kelly.
“Sadly failed, ” Kelly said via Twitter. “Space is hard.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stressed that the space station crew is in no immediate trouble because of this latest loss. Late last week, NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, said the outpost had enough supplies on board to make it to October or so.
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