"Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night's launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first-stage engine. Initial data suggests that one of the rocket's nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued," SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., said in a statement emailed to PC Magazine.
The private space company's spaceship is headed toward the International Space Station after rocketing into space in a first-time contract with NASA.
Slowed-down video of the launch showed what looked to be material falling off the rocket after a visible flare-up, but SpaceX attributed the debris to "panels designed to relieve pressure within the engine bay [that] were ejected to protect the stage and other engines."
"We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it," SpaceX said. "Our review of flight data indicates that neither the rocket stage nor any of the other eight engines were negatively affected by this event."
The crewless Dragon cargo spacecraft in the SpaceX CRS-1 mission is scheduled to reach the low-Earth-orbit space station about 7:22 a.m. Wednesday.
A two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, which blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on schedule, lifted a capsule called Dragon that contains about half-ton of food, clothing, equipment and science experiments, including 23 designed and built by students.
The student projects include one from Santa Monica, Calif., middle-school students who want to know if Silly Putty has different properties in the weightlessness of space than it does on Earth.
Silly Putty displays unusual physical properties. It bounces but breaks when given a sharp blow and also can flow like a liquid. It was first created by accident during U.S. research World War II to find rubber substitutes.
The Dragon cargo also includes a freezer that can store laboratory samples at temperatures as low as 300 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Ice cream is included in the freezer, a rare treat for space crews, CBS News reported.
If all goes as planned, U.S. astronaut and station commander Sunita Williams, a U.S. Navy officer who holds the record for the longest space flight by a woman, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, who grew up in New Jersey, will to grab the Dragon with the lab's robot arm and maneuver it to a berthing.
The station crew will then unload the equipment and supplies. As they do, the astronauts plan to load the capsule with nearly a ton of no-longer-needed gear and experiment samples that previously had no way of getting back to Earth.
The Dragon is designed to make round trips to and from the space station so that components and experiment samples can be transported back to Earth for the first time since U.S. space shuttles stopped flying last year.
Sunday's launching was the first of a dozen SpaceX flights under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
The craft is scheduled to return to Earth near the end of the month, with splashdown about 250 miles off the coast of Southern California.