WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. (WJZ) — Investigators want to know what turned a spectacular rocket launch into a catastrophic failure in a matter of just seconds. Eyewitnesses were rattled by the massive explosion.

Christie Ileto has more on the significant losses from that blast.

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In 15 seconds, the flight for the unmanned Anterus rocket was over. No one was injured, but the sound of the blast echoed for miles.

“I was actually scared and I told everybody maybe we should get in the car and leave,” said Alicia Reed, camper.

Five-thousand pounds of supplies bound for the International Space Station fell back to Earth in a fireball, including a science experiment done by four D.C. college students.

“To watch eight months of their hard work blow up in to pieces in the sky went from an incredible high to an incredible low,” said Megan Kemble with NASA’s Space Grant Consortium housed at American University.

Kemble says the experiment was supposed to be worked on by the astronauts. Her screams are heard in a video shot by a colleague.

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So what caused the mission to fail? Critics are now questioning whether decades-old engines may have played a role, though experts say the engines were refurbished.

“We don’t know for sure what the cause of this accident was,”  Frank Culbertson, V.P., Orbital Science.

Orbital Science is one of two private companies hired by NASA to resupply the International Space Station. He spoke to CBS Evening News.

“We have a lot invested and it’s difficult to watch something like that,” Culbertson said.

For now, scattered pieces of the rocket along Virginia’s coastline are the main clues to explain what went wrong.

Even though all the supplies for the space station were lost, NASA says there are enough in reserve to last a crew until spring.

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