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An unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies and the first-of-its-kind docking port to the International Space Station broke apart Sunday June 28, 2015 shortly after liftoff. (Published Sunday, June 28, 2015)
The breakup of an unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies and a first-of-its-kind docking port to the International Space Station Sunday morning was a reminder that such missions present "incredible" challenges, NASA officials said as they worked to determine a cause behind the failure.
It was a severe blow to the space agency, still reeling from previous failed shipments. The rocket appeared to break apart while traveling at 2, 900 mph, about 27 miles up.
In a statement, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said astronauts aboard the station have enough supplies for several months, but characterized the failed mission as a significant setback to the space station resupply program.
"We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight, " Bolden said. "The commercial cargo program was designed to accommodate loss of cargo vehicles. We will continue operation of the station in a safe and effective way as we continue to use it as our test bed for preparing for longer duration missions farther into the solar system."
Images: SpaceX Dragon V2 Capsule
The failed mission marked a "tough day" for SpaceX, which employs about 3, 000 people to work on the Dragon 9 rocket at its Hawthorne, California headquarters, and NASA, NASA's top spaceflight official, William Gerstenmaier, said during a Sunday news conference.
He said there was nothing common among the three accidents, "other than it's space and it's difficult to go fly." Sunday's event occurred about 2 1/2 minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic Ocean.
More than 5, 200 pounds of space station cargo were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew capsules.
"The vehicle has broken up, " announced NASA commentator George Diller. He said it was not clear how the disaster occurred or even when the rocket actually failed. Data stopped flowing from the Falcon 9 rocket around 2 minutes and 19 seconds, he said. No astronauts were on board.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, whose 44th birthday is Sunday, said "an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank" led to the breakup. Everything appeared to go well in flight until the rocket went supersonic.
"That's all we can say with confidence right now, " Musk tweeted. 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. SpaceX is one of the contenders.
Previous SpaceX supply runs, dating back to 2012, had gone exceedingly well. This is the second failed station shipment in a row and the third in eight months.
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