After beginning to tumble, the rocket fuel tanks burst into flame. Credit: Russian TV.
After a week of space successes, the Russian space program suffered a setback Monday with the loss of a Proton-M rocket and its three global positioning navigation satellites. Launched from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, the rocket lifted off OK but quickly developed a veer away from the flight path and started a tumble. As the rocket broke apart under the aerodynamic stress, the fuel exploded moments before the entire assembly crashed into the ground, creating a huge fireball.
Because the rocket broke up first, a large cloud of its rocket fuel, which is toxic to humans, moved with the wind towards the nearest town. Residents were warned to stay inside and close all windows and doors.
Reporter James Oberg notes that this type of rocket is scheduled to deliver a new module to the ISS later this year. The Russians might want to make sure this doesn't happen again...
A cloud of smoke marks the impact site. Credit: RiaNovosti