After rocket explosion, no air, water pollutants detected

NASA says investigation will take weeks

burnedlaunchpad nasa

An aerial view of NASA's Wallops Island launch facilities shows some of the damage after an  Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo craft exploded on launch Tuesday.

Credit: NASA

The initial assessment of the explosion that destroyed an Antares rocket and cargo craft on launch Tuesday evening showed no signs that the blast emitted pollution into the water or air around the launch area in Virginia.

NASA, which released the initial assessment findings Wednesday night, did not report that they have any answers about why the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s rocket and Cygnus spacecraft, carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies bound for the International Space Station, exploded.

The rocket lifted off at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 6:22 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Moments after liftoff, it paused in its ascent, began to fall and then exploded. No one was injured in the accident.

Orbital Sciences, one of the two companies NASA has contracted to ferry supplies and equipment to the space station, said property damage from the accident was limited to the south end of Wallops Island.

"It is far too early to know the details of what happened," said Frank Culbertson, Orbital's executive vice president, in a statement. "We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause, we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation's space program."

He added that their first priority is to ensure the safety of those involved with the response and recovery operations.

Orbital Sciences, aided by investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, is leading the investigation into the accident.

NASA said Wednesday's damage assessment was just the beginning of a long process and that it will likely take weeks to analyze the effects of the accident.

At first look, the launcher for a research rocket, which is located next to the launch pad where the Antares rocket lifted off, along with buildings nearest the pad, suffered the most severe damage. There also was damage to lightning suppression rods and a transporter erector launcher, a vehicle that can carry and lift missiles into position.

Air samples collected at the Wallops facility, on an island about 9.5 miles away and on a nearby highway detected no hazardous substances, NASA said.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission reported that observed no obvious signs of water pollution, such as oil sheens.

Investigators will continue to collect air, soil and water samples from the area to check for pollutants.

"In the coming days and weeks ahead, we'll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities," said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director, in a statement. "There's no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever."

NASA has contracted with Orbital Sciences to provide five more resupply missions after this one.

"Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate ddministrator of NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Directorate. "Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today's launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station."

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