The Antares rocket that blew up on Tuesday was deliberately destroyed by the operator, Orbital Sciences Corporation has announced. However, rather than an act of vandalism, the decision was made in an effort to minimize damage after the launch went wrong.
The mission was to send an uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station. Under NASA's policy of engaging private enterprise, Orbital Sciences and Space X have each been given contracts to bring payloads to the station. This was the fifth launch of an Antares, a reconfigured Soviet rocket, after test flights and two successful deliveries to the ISS.
Investigations are still underway to establish the cause of the launch failure, and Orbital has so far not revealed any details on the decision-making process. However, support has come from their competitor. Space X advisory board member Mark Kelly told CNN that Orbital did the right thing. "They commanded the destruct system to make sure it didn't wind up in a populated area when they knew it wasn't going to make it to orbit," said Kelly.
Both NASA and Orbital Sciences are reporting that the damage to the Wallaps Island launch site was less severe than might have been expected. “The good news is, it appears, from preliminary observations, that the launch complex seems to have spared the worst. It seems to be in relatively good shape. Certainly there’s going to be some damage, there’s some repair work to be done, but the major elements of the launch complex seem to be okay,” said Barron Beneski, vice president at Orbital Sciences Corp.