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article imageInvestigation opens into U.S. spaceship mishap

By Nathan Salant     Oct 30, 2014 in Science
Wallops Island - NASA is warning coastal Virginia residents not to touch any debris they find from Tuesday night's explosion and crash of a rocket and supply capsule headed for the International Space Station.
Investigators began searching the area around the Wallops Island launch facility at daybreak Wednesday for debris and clues as to why the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket and Cygnus supply capsule exploded and fell back to earth shortly after taking off.
"It had a lot of hazardous materials on board that people should not be looking for or wanting to collect souvenirs over," former NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson, now an Orbital executive.
"If you find anything that washes ashore in the local area or came down on your farm or in your yard ... definitely do not touch it and keep people away from it," he said.
Anyone who finds debris is being asked to call NASA at 757-824-1295 to report their location, according to Cable News Network (CNN).
The rocket and capsule figured prominently in NASA's plans to keep the International Space Station stocked over next few years and, possibly, to ferry astronauts into orbit from earth.
NASA has not said whether or how Tuesday's accident could affect those plans.
But depending on what is determined to be the cause of the crash, the accident could affect long-planned efforts to have private U.S. companies provide rides into orbit formerly provided by the Space Shuttle, which was taken out of service in 2011.
Trips to the space station have been provided by the Russian Federation for the past several years for $11 million per ride, but the expense and deteriorating international relations encouraged U.S. officials to seek alternatives.
Tuesday's explosion and crash were the first known accidents by private spacecraft operated by Orbital and its main competitor, SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif.
Orbital will lead the investigation, supported by experts from NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, CNN said.
NASA spokeswoman Rachel Kraft acknowledged Wednesday that the Antares rocket had "suffered a catastrophic failure" after Tuesday's liftoff, causing a major fire and scattering debris for miles.
The capsule was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS, CNN said.
No one was killed or injured in the explosion, but piece of debris could have fallen into the ocean.
The rocket lifted off at 6:22 p.m. as planned, but exploded six seconds after launch and fell to earth in a huge fireball, CNN said.
"There may be a possibility of debris washing up onto some of the beaches into some of the areas surrounding the island," Wrobel said..
"Damage was contained to kind of the south end of Wallops Island -- that's predominately where many of the pieces came down," he said.
"What we know so far is pretty much what everybody saw on the video," Culbertson told CNN.
"We don't really have any early indications of exactly what might have failed, and we need some time to look at that," he said.
Cargo destroyed in the explosion and crash included crew supplies, space station hardware, spacewalk equipment and a group of experiments designed by schoolchildren, Kraft said.
In better news, a Russian Progress resupply ship arrived at the space station earlier Wednesday, and a SpaceX vehicle is scheduled to bring more supplies in December.
More about Iss, Capsule, orbital sciences, International Space Station, Cygnus
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