A lot of money and countless hours of research were lost Sunday when SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule exploded shortly after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but officials are now concerned about debris washing up along Central Florida beaches.
Officials with the 45th Space Wing said the debris, which could be toxic or explosive, would most likely appear along the beaches north of Cape Canaveral (in Brevard County).
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According to the Brevard County Emergency Management officials, debris is not expected to wash up along the shore for three to five days. If and when debris washes ashore, it's expected to show up in the area north of St. Augustine.
"There is currently no sign of explosive or hazardous materials still intact, but for personal safety, please do not attempt to touch or pick up any debris, as it should all be considered potentially hazardous or toxic material," Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said in a statement.
An official investigation is underway for the rocket explosion, and any debris that is found is vital to the investigation, officials said. Although, much of the debris may be impossible to find.
"Most of it is probably going to sink because it was metal," said Dale Ketcham of Space Florida.
The explosion of the rocket and capsule occurred about 2 minutes, 30 seconds into the flight. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic Ocean. More than 5,200 pounds of International Space Station cargo were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew capsules.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, sent out the following tweet at 4:09 a.m. Monday:
Cause still unknown after several thousand engineering-hours of review. Now parsing data with a hex editor to recover final milliseconds.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 29, 2015
Despite the explosion, NASA officials said they have enough supplies for the three-person crew on board the space station to last until October and still plan to send three more crewmembers up in a late July launch.
NASA likes to have a six-month cushion of food and water, but is now down to four months.
Also destroyed in the explosion were high school students' experiments and a water filtration system.
NASA officials urge beachgoers not to pick up any debris. Also, do not use a cellphone near the debris.
The Coast Guard said it is working with SpaceX to monitor the debris field, adding no impacts from debris are expected for Florida beaches. Any debris that doesn't sink may be washing up along the east coast, from Florida to as far away as North Carolina.
"As with any incident involving spacecraft wreckage, debris should not be handled by members of the public," said Capt. Jeffrey Dixon, commander Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville. "These critical pieces of evidence are important in the investigation process and should be reported immediately to SpaceX or U.S. Coast Guard."
If any rocket debris is found, it's likely to be in the area well north of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
If you see debris, call SpaceX's hotline at (866) 392-0035
Sen. Bill Nelson, who was briefed on the rocket mishap by NASA and SpaceX at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, said the cause of the explosion remains unknown, but added the first stage of the rocket performed well, and the Dragon capsule separated from the second stage.
It also was not immediately known if any of the capsule is salvageable.
Nelson said many people were surprised this happened to SpaceX, a commercial company that has seen quick success through its commercial partnership with NASA to take cargo, and eventually crew to the International Space Station.
"SpaceX has had such phenomenal success so quickly, that folks didn't anticipate, and thus it was all the mor, that is was a surprise that this success had a hiccup," Nelson said.
Nelson added he was not sure if the mishap would delay manned missions to the International Space Station, currently set for 2017.
Here is a video still sequence of the launch failure: