Sunday Science: The Antares Rocket Explosion

Rocket Science Scale: 5

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD SCRIBER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD SCRIBER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

So the Antares rocket exploded during its launch to the International Space Station. One of the positives is that there was no one hurt during the explosion. But there was a huge loss of science and hardware during the explosion (apparently about 1/3 of the cargo on the rocket was science experiments).

I had two reactions to this news.

The first was OMG that’s so cool! That might sound like a weird reaction but engineers work on rockets for hundreds of thousands of man hours. Scientists and engineers check, then double check and then triple check their work when creating a rocket. In my engineering experience, tests usually go right. And in the Antares case this wasn’t a test. This was the third rocket they were sending up to the International Space Station for a resupply. The third. So they (And I keep saying they, they is Orbital Sciences the creators of the Antares rocket) were expecting a routine launch.

So once I heard that no one was hurt in the resulting explosion (because that would have made this horrific news), I thought that this was awesome. Even with all the checks when making the rocket, something actually went wrong. As an engineer, our job is the most interesting when things go wrong. It usually means there was some science that went NOPE, you won’t make your trajectory because you idiots had to much weight on the rocket. OR NOPE,  during the manufacturing process, there was a mistake which allowed a small leak of air which offset the pressure of the second stage rocket and that’s why it couldn’t make its trajectory.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY BRAD SCRIBER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

So basically, I will be waiting for the results of Orbital’s investigation to see why the rocket wasn’t allowed to launch.

Because once I read up on the explosion, I had my second reaction: They purposely blew it up. The rocket showed signs of failure in the first stage launch, the two safety officers decided to contain the failure to the launch to the launch pad. And it again amazes me of the all the checks that are in place when launching a rocket.

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Lesson Learned: Be careful when launching highly explosive rockets. They may actually explode.

Links:

My favorite so far of a photographer who was at the launch site:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141030-first-person-rocket-explosion-antares/

Others:

http://www.space.com/27615-antares-rocket-explosion-timeline.html

http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/30/us/antares-rocket-explosion/index.html

http://www.wired.com/2014/10/science-lost-antares-rocket-explosion/

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