I was attending the launch as an official guest of NASA through their NASA Social program. I was filming at the press site 2.2 miles away and I can describe the event and the aftermath. I'll do my best to answer any questions you have about the rocket launch, the evacuation, the press conference afterward, and anything else related to the event. I'm going to be sleeping before driving home from Wallops Island, VA, so I may not get to answer all questions right away, but I will answer everything within 24 hours.


My video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jCystkiIBs


Edit: an update from the road. I'm about 2.5 hours from getting home from Wallops. I'll be sure to answer all your questions then. Thanks for participating!

Edit 2: I'm finally home! I've cracked open a beer and I'll get to answering questions. I can't promise I'll get them all, but I'll do my best :D

Edit 3: I'm heading to bed. Thanks everyone for the discussion! If there's any more questions, I'll try and get to them tomorrow! Reply to the main thread so they hit my inbox please :)

Comments: 630 • Responses: 27  • Date: 

torgis30247 karma

I know nobody was injured, but for some reason seeing this awesome rocket come apart and burn made me feel sad.

What was the reaction of the people around you?

GreatScottLP325 karma

Everyone, press, social media, Orbital employees, NASA officials, were all very sad and downtrodden on the bus back. It was pretty traumatic both as an experience and as a realization of what this might mean for commercial spaceflight

partialinsanity4 karma

One setback can't be allowed to be a negative effect on that. We're going to the stars, no one said it will be a smooth ride.

GreatScottLP9 karma

"Humanity was born on Earth, but we were never meant to die here." These may just be the words of a tagline for a movie poster, but they spoke to me the first time I saw them and I will carry them with me until the day I die. Space is our destiny. We need to explore there in order to survive as a species. This will be a footnote in the grand history of our multiplanet civilization in the future.

Oil-of-Vitriol114 karma

How loud was the explosion?

GreatScottLP263 karma

It was one of the loudest things I've ever heard. The rocket going up under normal circumstances was loud enough, but the subsequent explosion was much louder. The shockwave was powerful too. It took many of us by surprise and that was probably the moment when it registered that we just witnessed something terrible. You know the entire time you're watching the event unfold, but being hit by the concussion of sound makes it all too real.

Officer_Warr102 karma

How negative of an impact would you expect this to be portrayed in national media?

GreatScottLP244 karma

Some of the questions during the press conference made everyone roll their eyes. There were some groan-inducing questions asked by the press. A bit of a misunderstanding about the nature of the mission. I think it's upsetting that it takes a catastrophic failure to bring the press out about something like a rocket launch. This is literally the cutting edge of technology and human capability and the press really only showed up hours later for live shots of us coming back from the press site.

IlIlIIII89 karma

This is literally the cutting edge of technology

I thought Orbital Sciences was using 1960's era, mothballed Russian rocket engines in their rockets. How is 50+ year old rocket technology, coupled with more modern electronics "literally cutting edge"?

GreatScottLP18 karma

I meant more in the philosophical sense that we're only 200,000 years removed from the savanna and we're sending objects hurtling around the earth at 7 km/s. That blows my mind and I truly don't understand why that doesn't excite other people.

CJC86569 karma

Do you know enough about this rocket to speculate what you think may have happened or were you just assigned to cover a launch?

GreatScottLP119 karma

I am not a scientist or an expert, but I was in the presence of scientists and engineers. Now, please be aware that this is purely second hand speculation and that the facts at this time are completely unknown. The speculation is that it may have been related to the modified second stage and ATK motor onboard. It's possible there was a problem with the main engines. The main engines looked troubled even before the initial flash 6 seconds after launch to some of the engineers I talked to. Again, speculation based on video, we'll known for certain after the investigation.

velocide14 karma

I've watched many launches. Never watched an Anteres before, but a couple of Minotaurs. My take is that that this vehicle, indeed, looked troubled right as it came off the pad.

GreatScottLP15 karma

This is also the opinion of the majority who were in attendance at the press site.

GreatScottLP61 karma

I'm checking out of my hotel and driving back to Dulles, VA now. I'll try and answer all of your questions when I get home in 4 hours. Thanks guys!

cjt0982 karma

On a scale of 0 to 10, how bad is I-495?

GreatScottLP11 karma

11, terribad to the max.

Devetta51 karma

It sounded like a woman fell over whilst you were running for shelter in your video footage, was everyone okay and did any debris fall in your area?

GreatScottLP75 karma

We were all okay. I stopped to help her up and then we ran to the bus. No debris fell at the press site, but I'd guess based on the footage that some of it was definitely thrown into the channel and the ocean.

faux_pseudo45 karma

How did you get the chance to go? Do you normally do these things on your own or is it "just a job".

GreatScottLP83 karma

I'm an educator and an active member of independent media, so I was invited by NASA to cover the event as part of their NASA Social program. This is the third event I've been invited to.

two_off40 karma

How well did you sleep last night?

GreatScottLP64 karma

I slept like a log. I had to go back out to the press site around 11 pm in order to retrieve items that were left behind. I then had to find a hotel room given that the press had descended on the island. I went to sleep around 1 am and got up at 6 am for a scheduled Skype call to the UK. Still feeling a little on edge. It might take a few days to process this and I have some people I definitely want to talk to about the experience after I get home. I'm about to drive home to mainland Virginia right now.

GumSmacker51331 karma

Amazingly scary. Was there debris that came your way from that distance?

GreatScottLP56 karma

No, thank goodness. But it got pretty intense. I was talking with one of the safety coordinators after the fact and she was frightened in the moment about debris and she's a former firefighter.

IKnowPhysics30 karma

Given the distance you folks were at and the elevation that the rocket achieved, you probably weren't in serious harm's way, with possible exception of the deafening blast wave.

That said, it makes sense that the former firefighter had doubts. Interviews with NASA officials last night stated that the safety response to the explosion and fire was to secure a large perimeter around the crash site and let everything burn. No firefighters were allowed to engage the fire created at the launch pad. The reason for this is that it's impossible to know (until proper investigation) if a) all first stage fuel has been combusted; b) any or all of the second stage solid rocket fuel has been consumed by explosion or fire; c) any of the spacecraft's hazardous-to-breathe, hypergolic hydrazine or N2O4 fuel was either released or consumed by the crash/explosion/fire; or d) any launch pad fuel pumping or storage systems are damaged or at risk of exploding.

In other words, immediately post-crash, the crash site and launch pad are basically flaming hazmat sites with potential unexploded bombs scattered around. It's also within the realm of possibility that an explosion at-altitude can scatter these dangerous components over a wide area. So the correct action is to keep people away and watch it burn. The safety response teams are likely trained to know this, hence their legitimate concern.

GreatScottLP4 karma

Spot on analysis. I even noted all of the extra fuel when we toured the launchpad on Sunday: https://twitter.com/GreatScottLP/status/526469323561652224

M1k3r_27 karma

What did you do once the rocket exploded? We couldn't see anything on the video when it happened.

GreatScottLP59 karma

I kept filming until we were ordered by NASA officials to flee the press site and get on the bus. The bus took us back to the visitors center where we decompressed and prepared for the press conference

cowboyrocky20 karma

Given the timing of the explosion, more than likely the failure had to happen in the first stage rockets that are a modified design based on the Soviet NK-33 engines, how do you feel about relying on old technology (40+ years)? Do you think this will be a motivating force for companies to try and innovate more?

GreatScottLP83 karma

I highly doubt the problem is related to the engines themselves. They're reliable engines and they wouldn't have been approved for use on NASA sponsored missions otherwise. People are looking for an easy scapegoat right now and pointing fingers and screaming "it's the damn Soviets!" seems satisfying. It's too early to tell what happened. My guess is that is probably had to do with a secondary system related to the engines but my opinion isn't worth much.

As for innovation, a lot of companies, including Orbital, are currently developing new rocket and vehicle technology.

CharlesCat18 karma

Was your initial reaction excitement or disappointment?

To be clear, I'm not asking what you wanted or think your initial reaction should have been, I want to know what it actually was.

tl;dr blow shit up boo yah! or I'll never let go *jackdrowns?

GreatScottLP65 karma

Initial reaction was shock, later reaction was extreme sadness. I'll admit that I cried on the bus. It wasn't lost on us what this meant for the commercial space program and we were all pretty upset for the folks at Orbital. My reaction while editing my footage this morning was fear. I won't be watching the footage again for a few days I think.

TDWfan15 karma

I saw this AMA and was like, hey, Great Scott was there, and then looked at the username. I smiled.

What was the rest of the NASA social like?

GreatScottLP17 karma

It was fantastic and it truly makes me sad that THAT didn't get nearly the attention the rocket failure got. Please check my twitter feed from the last three days, there's some serious cool stuff that I posted. NASA's ballooning program isn't as sexy as a big explosion, but damn, it's a really cool program.

scoped_out8 karma

The Antares mission was supposed to be a resupply mission to the ISS. Now that this mission is lost, does that mean that the ISS is going to be short on supplies in the near future? If that's the case, when is the next supply mission for ISS planned for?

GreatScottLP11 karma

The ISS has enough supplies on board to last the six astronauts a year. The Russian Progress spacecraft also delivered supplies later today. The astronauts on board the ISS are not in danger of running out of supplies. They will, however, be sorely missing the personal items that were vaporized on the launch pad.

Mstolly7 karma

This mission was originally delayed because a boat drifted into the Rockets path down range, is this correct? If so do you think, or is there any speculation that, scrubbing the launch could have contributed to the subsequent failure?

GreatScottLP12 karma

Probably not. My general understanding is that this or something like it probably would have happened if they had launched the previous day. Again, this is just pure speculation. We'll know more after the investigation.

badboybarker5 karma

Could you feel the heat from the explosion even at 2miles+ away?

GreatScottLP5 karma


slibsirk3 karma

Wow, how are you Scott?

As you are a teacher, what are your feelings about the Challenger failure?

GreatScottLP3 karma

I have a special connection to the challenger mission, in a small way. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. My class ring is very similar to the class ring of Steven J. McAuliffe, who was a 1970 graduate of VMI. He had his wife, Christina McAuliffe (the teacher aboard Challenger) bring his class ring with her on the space shuttle. VMI replaced his ring free of charge and all cadets from VMI are extended the same courtesy if we ever lose our rings to this day. Challenger was a tragedy, as was this event yesterday, but we learn from our mistakes and press forward. Never backwards.

7x5x3x2x23 karma

WOW! You saw a REAL explosion?

GreatScottLP5 karma

Yes. It was very hot, very loud, very big, and very scary.

ILikeMasterChief3 karma

What is the NASA Social program? What do you do for them?

GreatScottLP3 karma

NASA Social is a really cool program where people who are very prominent in independent media can get media credentials for NASA events. I've been to three: the one at Wallops the last few days and two at Goddard in Greenbelt, Maryland. Anyone can apply for them and they're really awesome! Check out this page for more details: http://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/

scootscoot3 karma

Why did you run with your camera instead of leaving it on the tripod to keep filming?

GreatScottLP10 karma

Split second decision. My thinking at the time was that anything left behind could be seized as evidence or that I'd never see it again, so I grabbed as much as I could.

84943 karma

Hey Scott! Love your videos! Anyway, was the initial reaction among people make it seem like it was a terror attack/espionage or did people just think it was a malfunction? Thanks

GreatScottLP8 karma

No, no one was speculating about terrorism. We all knew it was a malfunction. Espionage of a US rocket launch would be something not even the Russians or Chinese would be even capable of I think given the strict secrecy and security of these things. Good luck getting through the three police barricades to the press area, let alone the actual launchpad lol

But thanks for the support on YouTube, I really appreciate it :)