NASA's unmanned Antares rocket explodes on launch pad

An unmanned Antares rocket headed to the International Space Station exploded upon launch on Tuesday night at NASA's space launch facility in Wallops Island, Va.  The Orbital CRS-3 commercial launch vehicle was provided by private contractor Orbital Sciences and was carrying a Cygnus vehicle payload consisting of 5,000 pounds of support equipment and supplies.

No one was injured and the damage was limited to the $266 million rocket and spacecraft and contained within the immediate area around the facility.  This was to have been the fourth resupply mission for the Virginia-based Orbital Sciences, intended to rendezvous with the ISS and its crew of six astronauts.  Orbital Sciences announced on its Twitter feed that there had been "a vehicle anomaly" and that "the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure."   No immediate theories were raised on why Antares blew up after launch, and an investigation has begun as the smoke clears.   

This leaves NASA with just one other launch company to rely on, California-based SpaceX, in its plan to resupply the International Space Station in the post-shuttle era.  Though this was just the first mishap, does this call into serious question the safety and reliability of private contractors providing NASA's launch vehicles, or is it all part of the inherent risk of space travel?

(Via USA Today)

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