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Spaceflight is Still Hard: Antares Explosion Destroys Station Supplies

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

This past Tuesday, October 28, at 6:22 p.m. EDT, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket lifted off from the shorefront pad at NASA’s Wallops Space Flight Facility in Virginia, the Cygnus vehicle inside its fairing . The third of eight planned launches in Orbital Sciences’ $1.9-billion NASA contract, the Orb-3 mission was to deliver over 5,000 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station after a beautiful nighttime launch that would be visible to viewers up and down the U.S. East Coast.

Except, as you probably know by now, that’s not at all what happened.

Just six seconds after ignition and liftoff from the pad, a series of explosions ran through the Antares rocket. Ablaze, the 133-foot-tall stack stopped in midair and then fell back onto the pad in a fiery smear, where it and its contents of fuels and cargo detonated in an enormous explosion. It was incredible, it was catastrophic, it was awful.

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A Frog Makes One Giant Leap for Lunar Exploration

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA's LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

The launch of a Minotaur V rocket with NASA’s LADEE mission on Sept. 6, 2013. (Credit NASA/Wallops/Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport)

At 11:27 pm EDT on September 6, 2013, NASA’s LADEE mission lifted off aboard a Minotaur V rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia shore, a launch visible across the entire northeast coast as it arced beautifully over the Atlantic on its way to the Moon.

Sadly, at least one frog may have been harmed in the making of this mission.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The fate of this splayed amphibian is as yet unknown.

The photo above, taken by an automated camera set up near the launch site, shows Orbital Sciences Minotaur vehicle lifting off on a column of flame and steam. Silhouetted against the backlit exhaust cloud on the right is an airborne frog, likely flung from one of the small ponds near the pad.

According to Nancy Atkinson on Universe Today, Wallops spokesman Jeremy Eggers confirmed the picture is legitimate and was not altered in any way.

Perhaps in memoriam this will become the unofficial mascot of the facility, like the “space bat” that hitched a last ride on a shuttle fuel tank in 2009. He really should get a name… how about “Wally”?

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Also, here’s a little tribute song to Rocket Frog, via BurritoJustice and Allesondra Springmann (with apologies to Mr. Bowie):

Ground Control to Major Frog
Commencing countdown engines on
WTF are you doing in the pond
Check ignition and may frog’s love be with you
 
This is Major Frog to Ground Control
I thought I had a few seconds more
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the pond looks very different today
 
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog
Can you hear me Major Frog

To The Moon! Apollo 11 Liftoff (HD Video)

Apollo 11 seen from the launch tower (NASA)

On this day, July 16, in 1969, a Saturn V rocket — still the most powerful rocket ever built — launched Apollo 11 on its historic journey to take astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon — the first two becoming the first humans to ever step foot on another world four days later.

The video above is the original NASA broadcast footage of the Saturn V launch from Kennedy Space Center (look for the shockwave at 1:14!) Below is something even more incredible — a remote camera video from the pad showing the rocket launch close-up, at 500 frames per second!

Check it out:

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How a Falcon Carried a Dragon Into the Future

In the dark hours before dawn this morning, Tuesday May 22, 2012, history was once again made along Florida’s warm and humid space coast. After a series of extensions and delays — and even one literal last-second scrub — SpaceX successfully launched its Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket… a trailblazing event that opens the doors of our nation’s future in space!

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Star Lab Makes Suborbital Affordable

Rendering of the Star Lab launch vehicle. (Credit: 4Frontiers)

Star Lab, the next-generation vehicle for suborbital experiments developed by the Florida-based 4Frontiers Corporation, is well on its way toward its first successful flight — and it’s looking for payloads.

I had a chance to interview Mark Homnick, CEO of 4Frontiers, at his office in New Port Richey, Florida. He gave me the run-down on Star Lab and how it will help make suborbital payloads affordable for research institutions, helping them get their experiments off the shelf — and off the ground.

“We’re real, we’re viable, and we have the best deal that I know of… we’ll have the lowest cost and the highest launch rate, anywhere.”

– Mark Homnick, CEO of 4Frontiers Corporation

It’s a fascinating venture and it’s going to become a reality very soon. Read the full story here.

To the Moon! GRAIL Successfully Launches on 9/10/11

Can’t see the video below? Click here.

And away she goes! NASA’s GRAIL spacecraft launched successfully – and beautifully! – at 9:08 am EDT this morning from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II Heavy rocket. This was the third day for launch attempts after several scrubs due to high-altitude winds on both Thursday and Friday. In this case the third time certainly WAS a charm!

GRAIL will fly twin spacecraft in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth’s moon and provide scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

Shortly after launch the spacecraft successfully separated from the rocket stages. It will take the two spacecraft until New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to reach the moon. Go GRAIL!

Visit the mission news page here.

Up, Up and Away!

Endeavour's final flight on May 16, 2011 seen from NASA weather aircraft

The space shuttle Endeavour lifted off from Cape Canaveral for the final time on the morning of Monday, May 16 2011, and quickly pierced through the low cloud cover, disappearing from view for many observers on the ground but not for those high above in a NASA weather reconnaissance aircraft! They had quite the view as the shuttle punched through the clouds on its way into space, leaving a trail behind that cast a long shadow in the morning sun. Absolutely beautiful!

See this and more aerial views on Spaceflight Now.

Image: NASA

…and watch the launch below from the perspective of a NASA Tweetup attendee! (Click here if you don’t see the video.)

Incredible! It’s a shame sights like this are very soon to be a thing of the past.

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