Space Station Facing Uncertain Future As Soyuz Explodes On Liftoff
Moscow (AFP) Oct 16, 2002
A Russian rocket exploded in mid-air seconds after blasting off, killing one serviceman and injuring 20 others, prompting Moscow to consider postponing the next flight to the International Space Station, officials said Wednesday.
The Soyuz-U rocket was launching a Foton-M satellite late Tuesday from Russia's Plesetsk military cosmodrome in the far north when it blew up 20 seconds after lift-off and crashed, Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov told AFP.
It was the first fatal accident involving a Russian space launch since 1980, when 51 people died during an accident involving a rocket at the same Plesetsk cosmodrome, Russian media reported
"The rocket crashed onto the cosmodrome, a few hundred metres (feet) from the launch-pad, causing a fire," a defence ministry official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A top Russian space official warned that it may be necessary to delay a planned flight to the ISS on October 28 on a similar Soyuz rocket carrying Russians Sergei Zalyotin and Yury Lonchakov and Belgian flight engineer Frank DeWinne.
"On Thursday evening the crew will return to Star City," (the training centre outside Moscow) from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, head of the cosomonaut preparation program, Yury Bogorodsky, told Interfax.
But the space agency spokesman insisted the tragedy would not have any long-term consequences.
"Russia will not give up Soyuz launchers, which are the most reliable in the world," said Gorbunov, adding that it was the 28th accident involving this type of rocket during hundreds of launches.
Russia is one of 16 countries in the ISS project, including Canada, France, Japan, Russia and the United States. It makes all its flights to the orbiting space station on Soyuz rockets.
A commission of inquiry was to fly to Plesetsk Wednesday evening to determine the cause of the blast, the space agency press service said, adding that the satellite had been insured.
"It is difficult for the moment to say exactly what happened. It could be a fault of the manufacturers or poor preparations for the flight," Gorbunov said.
The regional military prosecutor's office has opened a criminal case for negligence, officials told ITAR-TASS.
Initial reports by the ITAR-TASS news agency had said that eight soldiers were wounded by the accident.
The satellite had been scheduled to make a 15-day voyage around earth carrying scientific experiments for the European Space Agency (ESA), the United States, Canada, Indonesia and Japan.
In Paris, officials with the ESA said all the European scientists who had been at the launch zone were unhurt. An ESA statement said the incident occurred at 1820 GMT Tuesday.
The 650-kilo (1,430-pound) payload included 44 experiments supported by ESA, in areas ranging from fluid dynamics and biology to growing crystals in microgravity.
"A state inquiry board headed by Russian space officials will be shortly set up to investigate the causes of the accident and to evaluate what implications there might be for future Soyuz flights," ESA said.
"The Soyuz that failed is similar, but not identical, to the version to be flown from Baikonur (Kazakhstan), on 28 October, carrying ESA's Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne and two Russian crewmates to the International Space Station for a 10-day mission," it added.
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