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The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Orbital ATKs Cygnus spacecraft onboard is seen shortly after Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility on Dec. 2, 2015, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Aubrey Geminani—AFP/Getty Images
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Editor’s note: Yesterday’s planned launch was scrubbed due to poor weather. NASA has scheduled a second try today, between 5:30 and 6:00 PM, ET, though weather continues to be a problem. TIME will carry the launch attempt live.

Space flight had a very bad day on October 28, 2014. That was the day an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft—both built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences—blew up just seconds after leaving the pad at the Wallops Island Flight Facility.

No astronauts were aboard, which was a very good thing; but thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies, bound for the International Space Station were—which was a very bad thing. Orbital Sciences has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to make such unmanned cargo runs (SpaceX, Elon Musk’s California-based company, has a similar contract). While Orbital has made successful runs to the station before, exploding on the pad even once is no way to keep the customer happy.

At 6:10 PM (ET) on December 3—weather permitting—the company will try to climb back into the game, launching another Cygnus to the station, and TIME will stream it live here. The cargo this time includes a safety jetpack astronauts wear during spacewalks, multiple experiments on bacteria and other microorganisms that will be conducted in the space station’s labs, a micro-satellite deployer and more.

The cause of the original explosion has been traced to a faulty turbo pump in one of the first-stage engines, but to play it safe until the problem can be fully rectified, Orbital Sciences will launch its Cygnus aboard a reliable Atlas V rocket, built by United Launch Alliance. All launches are dramatic and all launches are suspenseful. This one, given the history and the stakes, will be more so.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger at

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