An unmanned Russian rocket went up in flames and crash-landed in Kazakhstan early Tuesday. The fiery show destroyed the $200 million satellites that were on board.
The Proton-M rocket was transporting the three satellites into orbit as part of the Glonass system, Russia's global positioning system (GPS), but shortly after takeoff, the rocket began to oscillate and then exploded.
The crash was captured on live TV and broadcast on Russia's state-run news channel, Rossiya-24.
"What a beautiful sight!" the news announcer said as the rocket lifted off from the launching pad. Seconds later he gasped when it suddenly turned sideways and caught fire. "But something is going wrong! Something is wrong! It seems to be a catastrophe!"
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No one was injured, but the crash spewed the highly toxic liquid rocket fuel called heptil all over the launch site.
"A bad failure in the highly politically sensitive program in the days of political crisis," Igor Lissov, an editor for Russia's Cosmonautics News, wrote in a posting on the independent NASASpaceflight.com
discussion forum. "Pretty bad, even without casualties."
It's not yet clear what caused the explosion and crash, but a majority of the Proton-M launches over the past few years have been unsuccessful. The rockets, manufactured at the Khrunichev Space Center in Moscow, have suffered five failed launches since December 2010. There were three successful launches before Tuesday's crash, Yahoo! News reported.
"Accidents do happen in [the Russian space program] but we shouldn’t see a tendency here either as there have been several successful launches of Proton-M recently," Sergei Gromov, the leading engineer of Space Corp. Energia, told the Los Angeles Times.
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