Spacecraft experiment ends in explosion

September 8, 2008 4:57:20 AM PDT
A retired NASA engineer looking to develop an inexpensive way for people to travel to space might have to go back to the drawing board after an explosion during one of his experiments. Jim Akkerman was working Saturday on a spacecraft his firm is developing when his rocket fuel exploded. No one was injured and no property was damaged at the accident in Hitchcock, located about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

"It's just an experiment that went bad," Hitchcock Police Chief Glenn Manis told the Galveston County Daily News. The explosion, which happened at a former blimp base, occurred because too much of a methane-oxygen fuel mixture accumulated in the rocket engine after the engine wouldn't fire, Manis said.

Authorities said Akkerman committed no crime. Akkerman, who is president of Houston-based Advent Launch Services, could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.

Advent is trying to develop a spacecraft that launches vertically from water and lands horizontally like a seaplane. It is a winged rocket designed to glide down to the ocean surface for a safe, controlled landing.

"We believe that creating a low-cost, reliable delivery system will lead to more commercially viable space programs," according to the company's Web site.

According to his company's Web site, Akkerman was a NASA engineer for 36 years and worked on a variety of projects during his career, including orbit maneuvering systems, solar power satellites and high altitude airplane engines.

He formed his firm after retiring in 1999.

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