NASA Administrator Addresses Orbital-3 Launch Mishap

The following is a message from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden regarding the October 28th launch accident involving Orbital Sciences’ supply mission to the International Space Station.

The remarkable things that NASA does in space and on Earth are not easy.  While we are absolutely committed to ensuring that every mission is successful and all our people are safe, in rare instances, things do not go as expected. Such was the case yesterday during the third cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS) by NASA’s commercial cargo partner, Orbital Sciences.  Shortly after launch, Orbital’s Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft suffered a catastrophic anomaly causing the destruction of the spacecraft and its cargo.  The good news is that no one was injured, no critical cargo was lost and the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other necessary supplies.

While NASA is disappointed that Orbital’s mission to the Space Station was not successful, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand this mishap.  We remain fully committed to our commercial crew and cargo programs.  Turning over cargo and human transportation to and from the International Space Station to commercial partners is an essential part of our Journey to Mars, as it allows NASA to focus on building the Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than anyone has ever gone before.  By promoting competition and having at least two commercial partners for cargo and human missions, we are assured that our progress will not be halted by reliance on a sole contractor.

Station operations take into account these kinds of contingencies.  Other cargo missions, including the Progress spacecraft that just launched and docked to the Station earlier today, and the SpaceX mission targeted for later this year, will help fill the gap with some of the cargo lost aboard Cygnus.  These missions will ensure that the ISS operations continue uninterrupted.

Our astronauts, like the true professionals they are, will continue the groundbreaking research and technology demonstrations aboard the Station that are helping us use the ISS as a springboard to missions farther into the solar system — to an asteroid and Mars.

NASA learns from every success and every failure.  The Orbital Sciences team investigating this mishap has already begun its work.  With our assistance and support, they will get to the root cause and correct it and our entire launch program will be stronger as a result of what we learn.

Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking and none of us in our NASA Family should ever forget this!  This unsuccessful launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our capability to launch cargo and crew from American shores to the International Space Station.

I commend all the teams involved for their planning and hard work, especially the teams at Wallops and the Goddard Space Flight Center, which ensured everyone’s safety last night – and which will help facilitate the investigation.

As we move forward, know that our Space Station will continue to soar and our commercial partners will continue to innovate and learn to help NASA make the next giant leap in exploration.

An accident like this reminds us that we in NASA are part of a very special family and of how precious our people and our dreams are.  Please take care of yourselves and each other.  Be safe and follow the guidance of those directing this investigation.

Charlie B.