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Unmanned rocket explodes after liftoff


Residents stay inside awhile to avoid smoke

January 17, 1997
Web posted at: 4:15 p.m. EST

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- An unmanned Delta II rocket carrying a $40 million U.S. Air Force navigational satellite blew up 13 seconds after liftoff Friday morning, Air Force officials said. No injuries were reported.

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The rocket was to launch a "new generation of satellites for the U.S. Air Force." However, Air Force officials say the rocket self-destructed about 11 a.m. EST after "an anomaly" occurred about 10 seconds into the flight.

When the $55 million Delta rocket exploded, an Air Force officer announced over a loudspeaker: "Take cover immediately from falling debris. I'll say again: Take cover immediately from falling debris."

The rocket was carrying the first in a new generation of Global Positioning System satellites that can enable people to pinpoint time to within a millionth of a second, speed to a fraction of a mile per hour and location to within a few feet.

People warned to stay indoors

Sheriff's deputies warned nearby residents to stay indoors until early afternoon with their windows closed and air conditioning systems shut off as a precaution against smoke from the explosion.

The Air Force said the smoke wasn't toxic, but an official at the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center said vapors could be irritating to humans and pets.

Residents said the blast could be felt as far away as 25 miles. There were reports that store windows 10 miles away were broken by the explosion.

The Air Force said parts of the rocket fell into a cleared safety area in the Atlantic Ocean; other fragments fell onto Air Force property, causing a small brush fire.

Air Force officials said the satellite system was a significant improvement over previous designs that required a specific launch window for each orbital position.

The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978. This was the first time a Delta rocket has blown up in more than a decade. The rocket is made by McDonnell Douglas Corp.


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