An unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies and a first-of-its-kind docking port to the ISS broke apart Sunday shortly after liftoff.
The accident happened about 2 1/2 minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A billowing white cloud grew 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 Ocean. More than 5,200 pounds of space station cargo were on board.
“We appear to have had a launch vehicle failure,” announced NASA commentator George Diller. No astronauts were on board.
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.”
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell assured reporters, at an early afternoon news conference, that the company will fix the problem — “and get back to flight.”
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 a tough day,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s top spaceflight official. He said there was nothing common among the three accidents, “other than it’s space and it’s difficult to go fly.”