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I Am An Eyewitness From The Press Site Of The Orbital Sciences Antares Rocket Critical Failure, AMA

Oct 29th 2014 by GreatScottLP • 21 Questions • 1373 Points

I was attending the launch as an official guest of NASA through their NASA Social program. I was filming at the press site 2.2 miles away and I can describe the event and the aftermath. I'll do my best to answer any questions you have about the rocket launch, the evacuation, the press conference afterward, and anything else related to the event. I'm going to be sleeping before driving home from Wallops Island, VA, so I may not get to answer all questions right away, but I will answer everything within 24 hours.

Proof:

My video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jCystkiIBs

https://twitter.com/GreatScottLP/status/527447940898775041

Edit: an update from the road. I'm about 2.5 hours from getting home from Wallops. I'll be sure to answer all your questions then. Thanks for participating!

Edit 2: I'm finally home! I've cracked open a beer and I'll get to answering questions. I can't promise I'll get them all, but I'll do my best :D

Edit 3: I'm heading to bed. Thanks everyone for the discussion! If there's any more questions, I'll try and get to them tomorrow! Reply to the main thread so they hit my inbox please :)

Q:

I know nobody was injured, but for some reason seeing this awesome rocket come apart and burn made me feel sad.

What was the reaction of the people around you?

A:

Everyone, press, social media, Orbital employees, NASA officials, were all very sad and downtrodden on the bus back. It was pretty traumatic both as an experience and as a realization of what this might mean for commercial spaceflight


Q:

How loud was the explosion?

A:

It was one of the loudest things I've ever heard. The rocket going up under normal circumstances was loud enough, but the subsequent explosion was much louder. The shockwave was powerful too. It took many of us by surprise and that was probably the moment when it registered that we just witnessed something terrible. You know the entire time you're watching the event unfold, but being hit by the concussion of sound makes it all too real.


Q:

How negative of an impact would you expect this to be portrayed in national media?

A:

Some of the questions during the press conference made everyone roll their eyes. There were some groan-inducing questions asked by the press. A bit of a misunderstanding about the nature of the mission. I think it's upsetting that it takes a catastrophic failure to bring the press out about something like a rocket launch. This is literally the cutting edge of technology and human capability and the press really only showed up hours later for live shots of us coming back from the press site.


Q:

How did you get the chance to go? Do you normally do these things on your own or is it "just a job".

A:

I'm an educator and an active member of independent media, so I was invited by NASA to cover the event as part of their NASA Social program. This is the third event I've been invited to.


Q:

Do you know enough about this rocket to speculate what you think may have happened or were you just assigned to cover a launch?

A:

I am not a scientist or an expert, but I was in the presence of scientists and engineers. Now, please be aware that this is purely second hand speculation and that the facts at this time are completely unknown. The speculation is that it may have been related to the modified second stage and ATK motor onboard. It's possible there was a problem with the main engines. The main engines looked troubled even before the initial flash 6 seconds after launch to some of the engineers I talked to. Again, speculation based on video, we'll known for certain after the investigation.


Q:

I've watched many launches. Never watched an Anteres before, but a couple of Minotaurs. My take is that that this vehicle, indeed, looked troubled right as it came off the pad.

A:

This is also the opinion of the majority who were in attendance at the press site.


Q:

Amazingly scary. Was there debris that came your way from that distance?

A:

No, thank goodness. But it got pretty intense. I was talking with one of the safety coordinators after the fact and she was frightened in the moment about debris and she's a former firefighter.


Q:

It sounded like a woman fell over whilst you were running for shelter in your video footage, was everyone okay and did any debris fall in your area?

A:

We were all okay. I stopped to help her up and then we ran to the bus. No debris fell at the press site, but I'd guess based on the footage that some of it was definitely thrown into the channel and the ocean.


Q:

What did you do once the rocket exploded? We couldn't see anything on the video when it happened.

A:

I kept filming until we were ordered by NASA officials to flee the press site and get on the bus. The bus took us back to the visitors center where we decompressed and prepared for the press conference


Q:

How well did you sleep last night?

A:

I slept like a log. I had to go back out to the press site around 11 pm in order to retrieve items that were left behind. I then had to find a hotel room given that the press had descended on the island. I went to sleep around 1 am and got up at 6 am for a scheduled Skype call to the UK. Still feeling a little on edge. It might take a few days to process this and I have some people I definitely want to talk to about the experience after I get home. I'm about to drive home to mainland Virginia right now.


Q:

I saw this AMA and was like, hey, Great Scott was there, and then looked at the username. I smiled.

What was the rest of the NASA social like?

A:

It was fantastic and it truly makes me sad that THAT didn't get nearly the attention the rocket failure got. Please check my twitter feed from the last three days, there's some serious cool stuff that I posted. NASA's ballooning program isn't as sexy as a big explosion, but damn, it's a really cool program.


Q:

Could you feel the heat from the explosion even at 2miles+ away?

A:

Yes.


Q:

The Antares mission was supposed to be a resupply mission to the ISS. Now that this mission is lost, does that mean that the ISS is going to be short on supplies in the near future? If that's the case, when is the next supply mission for ISS planned for?

A:

The ISS has enough supplies on board to last the six astronauts a year. The Russian Progress spacecraft also delivered supplies later today. The astronauts on board the ISS are not in danger of running out of supplies. They will, however, be sorely missing the personal items that were vaporized on the launch pad.


Q:

Given the timing of the explosion, more than likely the failure had to happen in the first stage rockets that are a modified design based on the Soviet NK-33 engines, how do you feel about relying on old technology (40+ years)? Do you think this will be a motivating force for companies to try and innovate more?

A:

I highly doubt the problem is related to the engines themselves. They're reliable engines and they wouldn't have been approved for use on NASA sponsored missions otherwise. People are looking for an easy scapegoat right now and pointing fingers and screaming "it's the damn Soviets!" seems satisfying. It's too early to tell what happened. My guess is that is probably had to do with a secondary system related to the engines but my opinion isn't worth much.

As for innovation, a lot of companies, including Orbital, are currently developing new rocket and vehicle technology.


Q:

Was your initial reaction excitement or disappointment?

To be clear, I'm not asking what you wanted or think your initial reaction should have been, I want to know what it actually was.

tl;dr blow shit up boo yah! or I'll never let go *jackdrowns?

A:

Initial reaction was shock, later reaction was extreme sadness. I'll admit that I cried on the bus. It wasn't lost on us what this meant for the commercial space program and we were all pretty upset for the folks at Orbital. My reaction while editing my footage this morning was fear. I won't be watching the footage again for a few days I think.


Q:

This mission was originally delayed because a boat drifted into the Rockets path down range, is this correct? If so do you think, or is there any speculation that, scrubbing the launch could have contributed to the subsequent failure?

A:

Probably not. My general understanding is that this or something like it probably would have happened if they had launched the previous day. Again, this is just pure speculation. We'll know more after the investigation.


Q:

Wow, how are you Scott?

As you are a teacher, what are your feelings about the Challenger failure?

A:

I have a special connection to the challenger mission, in a small way. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. My class ring is very similar to the class ring of Steven J. McAuliffe, who was a 1970 graduate of VMI. He had his wife, Christina McAuliffe (the teacher aboard Challenger) bring his class ring with her on the space shuttle. VMI replaced his ring free of charge and all cadets from VMI are extended the same courtesy if we ever lose our rings to this day. Challenger was a tragedy, as was this event yesterday, but we learn from our mistakes and press forward. Never backwards.


Q:

What is the NASA Social program? What do you do for them?

A:

NASA Social is a really cool program where people who are very prominent in independent media can get media credentials for NASA events. I've been to three: the one at Wallops the last few days and two at Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland. Anyone can apply for them and they're really awesome! Check out this page for more details: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/


Q:

Hey Scott! Love your videos! Anyway, was the initial reaction among people make it seem like it was a terror attack/espionage or did people just think it was a malfunction? Thanks

A:

No, no one was speculating about terrorism. We all knew it was a malfunction. Espionage of a US rocket launch would be something not even the Russians or Chinese would be even capable of I think given the strict secrecy and security of these things. Good luck getting through the three police barricades to the press area, let alone the actual launchpad lol

But thanks for the support on YouTube, I really appreciate it :)


Q:

WOW! You saw a REAL explosion?

A:

Yes. It was very hot, very loud, very big, and very scary.


Q:

Why did you run with your camera instead of leaving it on the tripod to keep filming?

A:

Split second decision. My thinking at the time was that anything left behind could be seized as evidence or that I'd never see it again, so I grabbed as much as I could.