A Russian space station supply ship failed to reach orbit and crashed with a thunderous boom into Siberia on Wednesday, rattling NASA and others in this new era without any shuttles to bail out the orbiting outpost.
The launch failure occurred barely a month after NASA's final space shuttle flight.
While the International Space Station has more than enough supplies, the rocket accident threatens to delay the launch of the next crew, just one month away. That's because the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket that failed is similar to the ones used to launch astronauts.
As a result, three of the six space station residents who are due to return to Earth on Sept. 8 might end up staying longer. NASA wants to keep the outpost fully staffed with six to keep research going.
The Soyuz rocket launched on time from Kazakhstan, and everything seemed to be going perfectly until about five minutes into the flight. The third-stage ignited, but the rocket commanded the engine to shut down because of a problem. Contact with the craft was lost. Russian space officials declared it a total failure after reports of wreckage falling with a deafening roar in a remote area of Siberia.
NASA's space station program manager Mike Suffredini acknowledged it would be nice to have the space shuttles still flying as a backup measure, but they wouldn't be rushing to launch one anyway, he said.
"We've always known this was a risk, and I very much expect that we'll . . . sort out the anomaly and get comfortable with the next flight."