Trying to Go to Space on the Cheap Has Had Disastrous Consequences in the Past

This image taken from video provided by NASA TV shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island, Va., just six seconds after liftoff. The company says no one was believed to be hurt and the damage appeared to be limited to the facilities. (AP Photo/NASA TV)
An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA's commercial spaceflight effort. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Jay Diem)
An unmanned Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket explodes shortly after takeoff at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. on Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. No injuries were reported following the first catastrophic launch in NASA’s commercial spaceflight effort. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Jay Diem)

 

(The Washington Post) – When reporters asked the first U.S. man in space, Alan Shepard, what he thought about as he sat atop a Mercury launch vehicle, he’s said to have responded, “The fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder.”

That sentiment may hang heavy over the launch failure at a NASA facility near the coast of Virginia on Tuesday night. An Antares rocket from contractor Orbital Sciences came crashing back down onto the launch pad within moments of the launch of a flight intended to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The mission was unmanned, and there were no injuries reported on the ground.

The cause of the failure remain unknown. But Orbital has marketed the Antares as a “cost effective” way to launch payloads, due at least in part on its reliance on recycled Soviet-era rocket engines — a move that has drawn criticism from some, including competitor SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk. Here’s what he told Wired in a 2012 interview:

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