Orbital Sciences Mission Explodes 6 Seconds Into Launch

No doubt you’ve seen the video below, showing the Orbital Sciences Corporation Cygnus cargo spacecraft expl0ding shortly after liftoff.

This is an unfortunate catastrophe for Orbital Sciences, but also for the many people (including a number of students) who had experiments and other instruments aboard. NASA, the FAA, and Orbital Sciences, in conjunction with the National Transportation Safety Board, are investigating the problem. As of right now, from the press conference held after the accident, there are NO definitive answers about why this happened. There are teams already studying the data, and will be on the site in the morning. In addition, NASA and OSC are asking people who find remains of this rocket to please NOT touch them, and to report them to the launch team.

Let me say one thing again: there are NO definitive answers. Yet.

There WILL be answers, and they will serve to make the next flight safer. There is already a great deal of speculation online by many armchair enthusiasts and too few experts about what happened. That, too, is normal, but hardly helpful. Especially since most (if not all) of the speculation is by people who aren’t onsite, or on the teams. Bear that in mind if you start hearing or seeing weird stuff about this launch. It’s likely not true.

The name of this article is from a quote by Gus Grissom about the dangers of space flight. It’s never been truer than today:  accidents happen. They are studied. And, space agencies and companies learn from them and move on.

Give the investigation some time, and pay attention when Orbital Sciences and NASA give information about this mishap. They are best places to find out what happened and the press conferences will be a good first step in finding out how this happened.  Not from loony-toon conspiracy theorists (and yes, they’re oozing out from under the rocks and bridges of insanity, coming up with all kinds of fantastical ranting).


Comet Siding Spring Meets the Red Planet

This composite Hubble Space Telescope image captures the positions of Comet Siding Spring and Mars in a never-before-seen close passage of a comet by the Red Planet, which happened at 2:28 p.m. EDT October 19, 2014. On that date the comet passed by Mars at approximately 87,000 miles (about one-third the distance between Earth and the Moon). At that time, the comet and Mars were approximately 149 million miles from Earth. Courtesy NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (PSI), C.M. Lisse (JHU/APL), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

One of the benefits of having an amazingly keen-eyed space telescope like Hubble orbiting Earth is that you get great scenes like this one — Comet C2013 A1 Siding Spring passing by the planet Mars on October 19th. Hubble Space Telescope is actually so sensitive that scientists had to adjust the exposure to get the image. In addition, the scene is a dynamic one; that is, the comet and planet are moving with respect to each other, and a single exposure of the view was impossible to get without some blurring. So, the telescope took a series of images which were then composited together to get this interplanetary selfie. The image was taken using the Wide Field Camera 3. For more information, check out the Hubble press release page for the image.

Comet Siding Spring is getting closer to the Sun and will reach perihelion (the closest point in its orbit) on October 25th. After that, it will head back to the outer solar system on its lengthy orbit. The comet originated in the Oort Cloud and has spent at least a million years on the inbound leg of its first orbit since leaving its birthplace. Its orbit could be changed through gravitational interactions with other planets in the future.