Why NASA Blew Up a Rocket Just After Launch

A National Geographic staffer's on-scene account of the Antares rocket failure.

If they make the wrong call either way, bad things can happen. Destroy a rocket prematurely, and millions of dollars in equipment and research go up in flames unnecessarily. Allow a malfunctioning rocket to continue, and the lives of people near the launch site could be at risk.

Tuesday night, I saw what happens when they make the right call. A 139-foot-tall (43 meters) Antares rocket malfunctioned shortly after takeoff, and was destroyed in a massive explosion at the launch site after safety officers sent a kill signal. The glow from the accident was visible for miles up and down the coast, but because of the safeguards in place, no one was injured.

The flight safety officer and the range safety officer

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