Moments after it launched, the Orbital Antares spacecraft exploded, and fire and smoke billowed out from the resupply rocket bound for the International Space Station. The explosion occurred over a year ago, but it's in the news again: Earlier this week, without notice, comment or much explanation, the photos of the exploding Antares spacecraft appeared on NASA's Flickr account, Emre Kelly reports for Florida Today.
The lack of fanfare could have to do with the time that's passed since the October 2014 event, but it could also be explained by the catastrophe that was the Antares launch. Along with the spacecraft, 5,000 pounds of cargo exploded, which caused up to $20 million in damage to the launch pad and NASA facilities.
After a review of the explosion, a NASA team determined one of three "credible root causes" could be to blame and made a number of technical recommendations to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future. Though the crew responded calmly at the time, the explosion of the commercial resupply rocket launched a wave of questions from the public about both NASA's parts supplier (Orbital ATK) and the fate of commercial space missions.
The Antares explosion also marked the beginning of a series of botched, doomed and ill-fated incidents on various launch pads.
In April 2015, a Russian resupply ship headed for the ISS began to spin and eventually crashed into the Pacific Ocean without getting its cargo to cosmonauts. On June 28, disaster struck again when a SpaceX rocket disintegrated in the skies before even leaving Earth's atmosphere.
The low-key release of the photos could be interpreted as an attempt by NASA to play down an incident officials surely wish they—and the public—could soon forget. But a glimpse at the terrifying beauty of the recent disaster also highlights the dangerous realities of space exploration and the agency's stubborn optimism and bravery.