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Sat, Aug 23, 2003

Brazilian Rocket Explodes; 19 Dead

A Deadly Setback For S. American Space Program

A Brazilian rocket exploded Friday when an engine was apparently ignited by mistake. Nineteen people were killed in the blast. Twenty others were seriously injured.

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 the
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 payloads.



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