First powered flight in months
(CNN) -- An unmanned NASA-contracted rocket exploded early Tuesday evening along the eastern Virginia coast, causing a huge fireball but no apparent deaths.
According to NASA, the Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket and Cygnus cargo spacecraft were set to launch at 6:22 p.m. ET from the Wallops Flight Facility along the Atlantic Ocean. It was set to carry some 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.
"There was failure on launch," NASA spokesman Jay Bolden said. "There was no indicated loss of life."
Bolden added, "There was significant property and vehicle damage. Mission control is trying to assess what went wrong."
Video shows the rocket rising into the air for a few seconds before an explosion. It then plummets back to Earth, causing more flames as it hits the ground. NASA tweeted that the failure occurred six seconds after launch.
Ed Encina was among those who watched it happen from about three miles away in the remote resort area.
"You immediately thought that everything was fine, because you see the big launch, and it brightened up the sky," said Encina, a Baltimore Sun reporter. "And then all of a sudden, you see a big fireball."
Encina recalled a loud boom that caused "your feet (to) shake a little bit," as well as flames enveloping a roughly 100-yard area around the launch pad in a marshy area with brush.
Mark Kelly, a former NASA astronaut, explained that such a colossal fire was to be expected.
"It takes a lot of propellant to take a spacecraft of that size moving 25 times the speed of sound," Kelly told CNN, explaining how fast the rocket should have gone on its way to the space station. "So when it fails, it's usually pretty catastrophic."
Afterward, the launch director said on NASA's feed that all personnel were accounted for and that no injuries were reported.
He added that the spacecraft contained "classified ... equipment," and that there was a need to maintain the area around the debris field for investigative and potential security reasons given what was on board.
The launch had been scheduled for Monday, but that was scrubbed "because of a boat down range in the trajectory Antares would have flown had it lifted off," according to NASA.
Just before Tuesday's liftoff, the space agency reported "100% favorable" weather and "no technical concerns with the rocket or spacecraft being worked."
About one-third of the spacecraft's cargo consisted of material for scientific investigations, including a Houston school's experiment on pea growth and a study on blood flow in space.
There was about the same amount of cargo for supplies for the space station's crew, including more than 1,300 pounds of food.
It adds up to a big loss, and it wasn't immediately clear if a new mission will be added to compensate. Still, that doesn't mean the space station's six-person crew will go hungry in the meantime.
They still have goods on board and will get more soon: A Soyuz resupply spacecraft stocked with cargo and crew supplies is set to launch Wednesday from Kazakhstan. And SpaceX, a private company, should have its own fifth mission later this year, including more supplies and a laser instrument to measure pollution, dust and other aspects of the atmosphere, according to NASA.
NASA won't directly send anything up to the space station. That's because, since the end of the space shuttle program, it has relied on private companies to bring materials to the space station, albeit using NASA facilities for launch.
Orbital's first such commercial supply mission, in fact, was in January out of the Wallops Flight Facility. The Virginia-based company has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to make eight flights to the space station under the space agency's commercial supply program.
Tuesday's launch was supposed to be the fourth flight for Orbital until it ended, as the company acknowledged in a statement, in "catastrophic failure."
"We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident," said Frank Culbertson, the general manager of Orbital's Advanced Programs Group. "As soon as we understand the cause, we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation's space program."
CNN's Chandler Friedman and Dave Alsup contributed to this report.
Representatives with the online Slooh Community Observatory are hoping to capture some amazing footage of the "shooting stars" during a webcast tonight (Oct. 21). You can watch the broadcast — which will feature views from telescopes in the Canary Islands and Arizona — live directly through Slooh (http://live.slooh.com/) starting at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 Oct. 22 GMT). Slooh experts will be available to discuss the science of the shower, and they have also set up a way for viewers to hear the ionization of the meteors as they streak through the atmosphere. You can also see the meteor shower webcast live on Space.com.
"The Orionids are usually the year’s third-richest meteor shower," Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement. "Not to mention that they zoom away from one of the best known and easily recognized constellations. But this year they’re particularly conspicuous because, unlike the August Perseids that unfolded under a full moon, and the December Geminids, which will also be diminished by moonlight during half the night, the moon will be totally absent for the 2014 Orionids. It should be quite a nice show."
The three hardest-hit countries are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
"Ebola got a head start on us," said Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).
"It is far ahead of us, it is running faster than us, and it is winning the race," he told the UN Security Council in New York, by remote link from UNMEER headquarters in Ghana.
"If Ebola wins, we the peoples of the United Nations lose so very much," he said.
"We either stop Ebola now or we face an entirely unprecedented situation for which we do not have a plan," Mr Banbury stressed.
He said that with infection rates rising exponentially every day, UNMEER will need 7,000 beds for treatment.
However, to push back the spread "we must defeat Ebola and we must do it fast," he said.
"With every day that passes, the number of sick people increases.
"Time is our biggest enemy. We must use every minute of every day to our advantage and that is what UNMEER is doing."
WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward said the epidemic "could reach 5,000 to 10,000 cases per week by the first week of December", but described his figures as a working forecast.