A group of South Jersey students watched in person as their award-winning science experiment blasted off toward the International Space Station Tuesday night, only to see the rocket carrying it explode seconds later.
The group of Ocean City High School students made the trip down to Wallops Island, Virginia to witness the launch of NASA’s Antares ORB-3 since their experiment was on board when the rocket blasted off Tuesday around 6:22 p.m.
Moments later, the rocket — along with the students’ experiment — fell back to the ground in a fireball.
Nobody was injured in the accident, and all personnel were accounted for, the launch director said soon after the blast.
Ocean City Principal Matthew Jamison said the students were a safe distance from the blast and that no one was hurt.
Dan Bowersock — whose daughter Lauren Bowersock helped design the test tube-sized experiment — said that shortly after the blast the students boarded a bus to return home.
Bowersock and five classmates designed an experiment that was intended to examine the effect of microgravity on E. coli attachment to lettuce leaves, according to the Press of Atlantic City.
There was significant damage to the equipment on board the rocket. The Cygnus capsule was carrying "classified cryptoequipment," and the area around the debris field needed to be secured for accident investigation and security reasons, the launch director said.
An official said on NASA's livestream of the explosion's aftermath that the countdown had been "flawless" and the launch team had not been tracking any known issues.
The rocket launch was initially scheduled for Monday evening, but got scrubbed when a sailboat entered the hazard zone about 40 miles off the coast.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration were expected to perform the first investigation.