Russia Proton-M erupts in fireball, rams into ground [RT]

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A Russian Proton-M rocket carrying three GLONASS navigation satellites crashed soon after takeoff from Kazakhstan's Baikonur cosmodrome. Immediately after takeoff, the rocket swerved to one side, tried to correct itself, but instead veered in the opposite direction. It then flew horizontally and started to come apart with its engines in full thrust. There were no reported injuries. State-run Rossiya-24 television showed footage of the Proton-M booster rocket veering off course seconds after lift-off. It fell apart in flames in the air and crashed in a big ball of fire near the launch pad.Launch facility personnel who were in bunkers at the site when the rocket lifted off survived, the Interfax news agency reported, citing an unnamed source.Interfax said Kazakh emergency authorities were considering evacuating nearby towns in the sparsely populated area because of the potential health threat from toxic rocket fuel burning at the crash site.The estimated loss from the three satellites, meant for Russia's troubled Glonass satellite navigation system, was about US$200 million, Rossiya-24 reported. The state-run RIA news agency said the cause could have been a problem with the engine or the guidance system.Russia is increasing space spending and plans to send a probe to the moon in 2015, but the pioneering programme that put the first man in space in 1961 has been plagued in recent years by setbacks, including botched satellite launches and a failed attempt to send a probe to a moon of Mars.


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