A Brazilian rocket
exploded Friday when an engine was apparently ignited by mistake.
Nineteen people were killed in the blast. Twenty others were
It was the fiery end to Brazil's third attempt at launching a
space vehicle from deep within the jungle. In Brasilia, Defense
Minister Jose Viegas said the explosion was caused when one of
rocket's four engines ignited by mistake. The blast was heard
dozens of miles away in the town of Sao Luis. "The president
profoundly laments the death of the officials at the Alcantara
base,'' President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's spokesman said.
"Brazil's space program, an important
scientific program for our country, is today in mourning.''
Almost 800 people were
preparing the $6.5 million, 65-foot rocket for its scheduled launch
next week. The unmanned rocket was to have carried two satellites
into space. Officials said the rocket was going through final
tests up to August 24, after which it would have been ready to
start the launch sequence at any point. It was sitting in a
large structure on the launch pad when the accident happened at
1:30 p.m. local time (12:30 p.m. EDT).
Word of the accident reached the capital of Brasilia as the head
of the Brazilian Space Agency was holding a news conference with
his Ukrainian counterpart about a deal to launch Ukrainian Cyclone
rockets from Alcantara. "This sad accident should not and will
not influence relations between Brazil and Ukraine,'' said Valeriy
Komarov, the head of the Ukrainian Space Agency.
Brazil hopes Alcantara will become a major commercial satellite
launch center. The base is close to the Equator, allowing
rockets to use less fuel to reach orbit and carry larger