Russian Supply Rocket Breaks Apart En Route To Space Station

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An unmanned cargo rocket bound for the International Space Station was destroyed after takeoff on Thursday.

The Russian rocket took off as planned from Baikonur, Kazahkstan, on Thursday morning but stopped transmitting data about six minutes into its flight, as NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reported:

"Russian officials say the spacecraft failed ... when it was about 100 miles above a remote part of Siberia.

"The ship was carrying more than 2 1/2 tons of supplies — including food, fuel and clothes. Most of that very likely burned up as the unmanned spacecraft fell back toward Earth.

"NASA says the six crew members on board the International Space station, including two Americans, are well stocked for now."

The six people currently living on the International Space Station are Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, Andrey Borisenko and Oleg Novitskiy; NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Witson; and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

The Japanese space agency is scheduled to launch a different supply rocket next week, according to NASA.

This is the fourth botched launch of an unmanned Russian rocket in the past two years. As we reported, in May 2014 a Proton-M rocket broke apart about nine minutes after it took off carrying a satellite meant to bring Internet access to parts of Russia.

In May 2015, another rocket of the same type broke apart about eight minutes after it took off carrying a Mexican satellite.

And in April 2015, a Progress M-27M rocket similar to the one that took off Thursday made it to orbit before it lost contact with the ground, spun out of control, and burned up as it fell back into the atmosphere.

The most spectacular Russian rocket failure of the past few years happened in 2013, when a rocket made a wide, lazy arc back toward Earth shortly after takeoff and exploded into a fiery ball. That accident might have been the result of sensors, meant to keep the rocket upright, having been installed upside down.

U.S. rockets also explode from time to time. In September, a SpaceX rocket carrying a satellite meant to bring Internet access to part of Africa exploded on a launchpad in Florida. Another unmanned SpaceX rocket exploded about two minutes into its flight in 2015.

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