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Antares rocket self-destructs, explodes on way to space station

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Oct 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-28 22:28:23-04

An unmanned Antares rocket on its way to the International Space Station exploded after liftoff Tuesday, in the first failure of a private rocket to reach the station.

A safety officer ordered the rocket to self-destruct after an issue was detected about 10 seconds into launch. The wreckage, including 5,000 pounds of food and supplies for the station, crashed to the ground.

“We need to recognize how difficult and how demanding this business really is,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations at a press conference.

The rocket was launched from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, about 150 miles east of Washington. The 6:22 p.m. launch was advertised as being visible to many on the east coast.

No cargo aboard the spacecraft was critical to the International Space Station, Gerstenmaier said, and the station is well stocked with the supplies.

The 130-foot long Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft were built by Orbital Sciences Corporation under a NASA program to privatize cargo delivery to the space station. Orbital was paid $1.9 billion for eight flights. This was to be the third.

The loss was about $200 million, which is not fully insured, said Orbital's executive vice president Frank Culbertson, a former astronaut.

Orbital Sciences and the Federal Aviation Administration will lead the investigation into the incident with NASA involvement. Anyone who finds debris is asked to report it to NASA at (757) 824-1295.

The launch was expected to take place Monday but was scrubbed because a boat came too close to the launch site.

NASA recently contracted with Boeing and SpaceX to send astronauts to the space station. Orbital Sciences was not awarded a contract in the manned program.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch its fifth unmanned re-supply mission on Dec. 9.

Watch the explosion in this YouTube video of NASA's live feed:

A man posted a birds-eye view from up an airplane:

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com.