Shortly after its liftoff on Sunday morning, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon cargo vehicle bound for the International Space Station (ISS) exploded over the Atlantic Ocean marking the first failure of the rocket since California-based SpaceX had its maiden liftoff five years ago.
Falcon 9 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 10:21 a.m. and there appeared to be no problem or worries during the first two minutes of the flight. Two minutes and 19 seconds later, however, a white cloud appeared from the midsection of the rocket and debris eventually started falling toward the ocean below.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the rocket encountered a problem shortly before the first stage shut down, also known as main engine cutoff.
"Falcon 9 experienced a problem shortly before the first stage shutdown. There was an overpressure event in the upper stage liquid oxygen tank," Musk said.
In a new conference though, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, said that the problem seemed to have occurred in the second stage. She said that they did not expect the incident to be a first stage issue.
"We saw some pressurization indications in the second stage which we will be investigating," Shotwell said. Nonetheless, she declined to provide additional information saying that they are not going to speculate and provide information early on only to pull it back later.
Dragon was carrying over 4,000 pounds of cargo that include crew supplies, research experiment and hardware for the orbiting laboratory. The accident is the third time that an ISS bound cargo vehicle was lost over the past eight months.
The explosion brought a costly blow to efforts to bring supplies to astronauts aboard the laboratory in low-Earth orbit. The doomed flight was supposed to bring important research equipment to the space station.
Crew members who live in orbit also often depend on these cargoes for their food and other necessities and while these astronauts have plenty of supplies and food that could last for the next four months, officials acknowledged that nothing has prepared them for three accidents that occurred in a short period of time.
The three doomed cargo flights also raised questions on whether or not U.S. rockets are safe enough to launch astronauts to space. The loss also comes at a time when congress threatens to reduce funding prompting analysts to urge congress not to overreact to the loss.