Spaceflight Insider

The Antares rocket accident: Dissecting space disasters in the media

NASA Wallops Flight Facility Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A Antares Commercial Resupply Services 3 Cygnus SS Deke Slayton photo credit Charles Twine SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Charles Twine / SpaceFlight Insider

The recent loss of an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo vehicle to the International Space Station shocked the space community and the public alike. In some ways, that’s good. Launches to the space station have mostly gone well in recent times, and a launch failure is viewed as being highly abnormal.

While the launch failure is chewing up media bandwidth in aerospace circles, it has also featured prominently in the mass media. The space community has sometimes bemoaned the obsession with space disasters over successes in the media, especially when launch failures cost lives. But the high media coverage of this latest catastrophe appears to be well-handled.

For a start, the launch failure is a major newsworthy incident. It should be covered. The space community cannot expect censorship or disinterest in the event. Let’s also remember that the media feeds on negativity in other areas apart from space. The media was neither unfair nor biased in its coverage of the event. In fact, it was probably some of the best media coverage ever placed on a launch accident.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares Cygnus SS Deke Slayton NASA Wallops Flight Facility WFF Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A photo credit Charles Twine SpaceFlight Insider

Antares’ flight began at 6:22 p.m. EDT (2222 GMT) – and ended moments later in disaster. Photo Credit: Charles Twine / SpaceFlight Insider

The media were quick to report that no lives had been lost. They also avoided remarks about dangers to the station or its crew. Much attention was focused on dissecting why the incident occurred, a very clear and obvious subject in this story. The media selected experts to interview, who gave accurate and professional statements. There was an absence of misinformed individuals or conspiracy theorists. And all of this happened in the middle of a politically and commercially volatile flux that pervades spaceflight as a whole.

The media held their ground and did not appear to engage in lobbying or partisanship. It was technical, objective, and perceptive.

The general public got the right message fast. There was no panic or outrage.

The same can not be argued for other technical disasters such as the Fukushima nuclear shutdown and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, there was a focus on scientific and technical issues. The media sometimes treats these matters as too cerebral for a general news report, but they delved deeply into the operations of rockets, logistical issues for the space station and the overall complexities of operating this huge project. In addition to clear reportage on the explosion, the public received a concise and informative background briefing on the ISS program as a whole.

Clearly, it would have been better if this failure had never occurred. But incidents like this can sometimes snowball into greater disasters when they are not managed properly. This did not happen with the Antares launch accident. A media conference was called fairly quickly and managed well, but the media already had a clear picture through their own resources.

Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket Cygnus SS Deke Slayton NASA Wallops Flight Facility WFF Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A photo credit Charles Twine SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Charles Twine / SpaceFlight Insider

This article was written by Morris Jones, it originally appeared on Space Safety Magazine and can be viewed here: Antares Media

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Space Safety Magazine (SSM) is a quarterly print magazine and a daily news website, jointly published by the International Association for Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS) and the International Space Safety Foundation (ISSF). Space Safety Magazine is focused on safety related issues affecting space as well as safety on Earth from space events and objects. We regularly follows activities and threats in space debris and situational awareness, space weather and radiation impacts, nuclear safety, human spaceflight, launches, and reentries. SSM is highly international in nature, reporting on developments from around the globe, distributing content on multiple continents, and featuring an international staff.

Reader Comments

Still can’t believe the Accident investigation board is letting Orbital lead the investigation. This is like letting the Fox guard the hen house. The AIB will be swayed and obviously misled by Orbital who will most likely try to shift blame away from them if there is any blame to be found outside of historically bad motors.

Nancy Overstreet

Fabulous pictures!,!

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