ATLANTIC, Virginia (AP) – The owners of a commercial supply ship that exploded moments after lift-off promised to find the cause of the failed delivery mission to the International Space Station and warned residents to not touch any debris they might stumble across from the craft, which was carrying hazardous materials.
Crews planned to hit the ground at daybreak Wednesday to search for pieces of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo module, which blew up Tuesday night just moments after lifting off from NASA’s launch complex at Wallops Island, Virginia, said Bill Wrobel, director of the facility.
The cargo ship was carrying 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilogrammes) of experiments and equipment for NASA, as well as prepackaged meals and freeze-dried Maryland crabcakes for a Baltimore-born astronaut who’s been in orbit for five months. All of the lost materials will be replaced and flown to the 260-mile (418-kilometre)-high space station, NASA space station programme manager Mike Suffredini said. He said astronauts at the station currently have enough supplies to last until spring.
The accident could draw scrutiny to the space agency’s growing reliance on private US companies in the post-shuttle era. NASA is paying billions of dollars to Virginia-based Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to make station deliveries, and it’s counting on SpaceX and Boeing to start flying US astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as 2017. It was the fourth Cygnus bound for the orbiting lab; the first flew just over a year ago. SpaceX is scheduled to launch another Dragon supply ship from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December.