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Atlas 5 liftoff
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket flashes to life on its Cape Canaveral launch pad, sending Orbital ATK’s Cygnus cargo capsule on the first leg of its journey to the International Space Station. (NASA TV)

Today’s launch of a robotic Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station was totally successful. But the first-ever live 360-degree video stream of a rocket launch? Not so much.

The good news is that more than 7,600 pounds of supplies and experiments are now on their way to the station aboard Orbital ATK’s cylindrical transport ship, which is named the S.S. John Glenn in honor of the late space pioneer and senator.

Among the payloads are more than three dozen nanosatellites and a new habitat for growing plants in the station’s weightless conditions, plus experiments to facilitate growing cell cultures and test anti-cancer drugs that activate the body’s own immune system. There’s also the latest in a series of experiments to study how things burn up in space.

The Cygnus rose into orbit from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida right on time, at 11:11 a.m. ET (8:11 a.m. PT), atop United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. NASA’s video feed showed beachgoers watching as the launch vehicle ascended into sunny skies.

Now for the bad news: The most hyped angle of the event was the first-ever 360-degree live stream of a rocket launch, provided via NASA’s YouTube channel. Four fisheye-lens cameras were placed about 300 feet from the rocket.

The stream winked on about 10 minutes before launch. Viewers could get an all-around view from the vantage point near the launch pad, with a time lag due to the computer processing required to stitch together the 360. But the time-delayed signal stopped at about the T-minus-4-minute mark, and didn’t come back until after the rocket had departed.

As a result, the launch video looked like a rocket disappearing act: Now you see it, now you don’t.

There’s some consolation, however. The archived version of the YouTube video does manage to document the moment of launch, in a few herky-jerky frames:

And you have to keep in mind that the mission isn’t primarily about the 360-degree launch video, which United Launch Alliance has provided before on a post-launch basis. The important thing is to get the cargo safe and sound to the International Space Station.

Another launch to the station is due on Thursday, when two new crew members will head into orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz craft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz is scheduled to take the express route to the station, arriving just a little more than six hours after launch.

The Cygnus shipment, meanwhile, is taking the scenic route. It’s due to make its rendezvous on Saturday. The crew will use the station’s robotic arm to grapple the capsule and hook it up to the Unity module for unloading.

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