Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Brazilian rocket explosion
On August 22, 2003, a massive explosion destroyed a Brazilian Space Agency VLS-3 rocket as it stood on its launch pad at the Alcântara air base in northern Brazil. 21 people died when one of the rocket's four motors ignited accidentally. The explosion caused a fire in the nearby jungle brush, and produced a large cloud of smoke that was visible for large distances. This was the third major attempt by Brazil to launch a rocket of the country's own design.
The explosion leveled the rocket's launch pad, reducing a 10-story high structure to a pile of twisted metal. Dozens of kilometers away, residents of the city of São Luís were able to hear the blast. The rocket had been scheduled to launch in just a few days' time and had two satellites onboard when the explosion occurred.
After the explosion, the Brazilian Space Agency was criticized for using solid-fuel rockets, which are easier to build and ignite than liquid-fuel rockets, but also dangerous because they lack throttle controls and emergency shut-offs. The incident has caused a significant delay to the Brazilian space program because of government inquiries as well as the fact that many scientists and engineers who worked on the program died when the rocket blew up.
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