Image Credit NASA

Today, an unmanned commercial supply rocket, the Antares rocket, which was bound for the International Space Station (ISS), exploded moments after liftoff. Those who witnessed the explosion noted that there was debris falling all over the launch site in eastern Virginia. Fortunately, no injuries were reported. However, it's worth noting that this is the first mission failure in the history of NASA's commercial spaceflight effort.

Prior to this catastrophic launch involving the Cygnus cargo ship — which was loaded with supplies for the six people currently living on the ISS — four other launches were successful (the first of which, took place just over a year ago), marking the start of a new era in space exploration.

Recently, NASA teamed up with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to keep the space station stocked in the post-shuttle era. NASA recently renewed its efforts to launch missions to space (previously, Russia was largely responsible for resupplying the ISS, but relations between the United States and Russia have been strained ever since NASA cut ties with them earlier this year). This is the first disaster in that effort (though SpaceX also suffered a malfunction several months ago, when a reusable rocket prototype blew up over Texas), and Orbital Sciences is still contracted to conduct eight supply missions, delivering 20 tons of material, to the space station.

Image credit: NASA

NASA said it is investigating the cause of crash, which includes collecting all telemetry and other data, along with gathering the necessary data from the contractors. Little else is known at this point in time. However, NASA has instructed those working on the mission to maintain all computer data for the ensuing investigation, and all have been advised not to talk to news reporters (and to refrain from speculating among themselves in the interim). More information will be available once all investigations are complete and a probable cause of the explosion is identified.

According to NASA's spokesman, Rob Navias, there was nothing on the lost flight that was urgently needed by crew members currently working on the space station, so they are not endangered in any way, but surely NASA will make plans to have the supplies delivered in the near future.

As an unfortunate side-note, in the aftermath of the crash, Orbital Sciences — a company based in Virginia that helped develop and build NASA's Dawn Spacecraft — is also crashing in the after-hours trading market. Based on present data, the company just lost $266 million in market value. Yet, this should not be a monumental set back. "We will understand what happened — hopefully soon — and we'll get things back on track," Orbital Sciences' executive vice president Frank Culbertson told his team an hour after the events occurred. "We've all seen this happen in our business before, and we've all seen the teams recover from this, and we will do the same."

NASA will hold a news conference on NASA Television tonight at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT to discuss the incident. More details will be announced as the story continues to unfold. Stay tuned.

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