Rocket carrying Ocean City High science experiment explodes

    a NASA launch site

    NASA TV shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Va., just six seconds after liftoff. The company says no one was believed to be hurt and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

    An unmanned rocket bound for the International Space Station blew up seconds after liftoff from its Virginia launch site Tuesday evening. No injuries were reported, but the payload of the rocket — 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments, including one put together by students at Ocean City High School in New Jersey — was destroyed. 

    Six students worked for a year on the experiment, which was intended to investigate whether bacteria attaches differently to surfaces in low gravity. A contingent from the school had been excitedly waiting for the launch in Virginia.

    NASA reported favorable weather at the time of the countdown, which had been previously delayed on Monday because a boat crossed too closely to the launch site.

    “We will understand what happened hopefully soon, and we’ll get things back on track,” said Orbital Sciences Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson over NASA TV following the explosion. “We’ve all seen this happen in our business before, and we’ve all seen the teams recover from this and we will do the same.”

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Orbital Sciences is one of two companies NASA contracted with to provide supplies to the International Space Station after ending its own program. The Orbital Sciences’ rocket, known as the Antares, was designed specifically for this purpose, and successfully used in four launches.

    The reason for the failure is unknown at this time and was described by mission control Houston as a “catastrophic anomaly.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal