VIDEO: Rocket Explosion A ‘Tragedy’ But Not Devastating Blow

The director of Rice Space Institute weighs in on the Antares malfunction.

A commercial supply ship bound for the International Space Station exploded moments after liftoff Tuesday. The unmanned rocket was carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo for NASA.


Tuesday evening’s explosion of a rocket packed with experiments and supplies for the International Space Station is not a huge setback for private space travel.

David Alexander directs Rice University Space Institute. He says the explosion of the Antares rocket shortly after launch in Virginia is tragic, but not a crippling blow — either for NASA or the private space industry. He says there are other ways to make sure the ISS has what it needs to continue its work.

“With Space X’s launches — they have a different kind of rocket system. The Russians just went up successfully today with the Progress spacecraft. Although, I think, we’re pushing toward less reliance on the Russians,” says Alexander.

The company that built the malfunctioning rocket, Orbital Sciences, will have to make sure that whatever caused the explosion isn’t a systemic flaw with the engines.

“They’ve had a number of successful launches. They’re a very good company. They’ll do all the right due diligence to find out what the problem was, and correct it, and determine whether it’s something they should worry about on future launches,” says Alexander.

Alexander says when past private space launches failed, the companies involved learned from their mistakes. He’s also heartened to learn that some of the experiments that were lost in last night’s explosion will likely be replicated for future launches.


NASA held a news conference Tuesday October 28 following the mishap that occurred at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia during the attempted launch of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. Briefing participants were, Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Frank Culbertson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Advanced Programs Group at Orbital Sciences Corp, Bill Wrobel, director of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, and Mike Suffredini, NASA’s International Space Station Program Manager.


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David Pitman

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