Sun, Mar 21, 2004
Electrical Discharge Faulted In Accident
An explosion that
destroyed a Brazilian rocket in 2003, ending the country's third
attempt at space flight, was caused by an unidentified electrical
discharge that ignited an engine by mistake, a report said on
Tuesday. The commission investigating the accident that killed 21
people found no specific reason for the electrical fault. But it
said years of underfunding of Brazil's space programs had
compromised the safety of the project.
The rocket exploded on its jungle launch pad on Brazil's
northeastern coast on Aug. 22, 2003 -- just days before it was to
have blasted off. Had the launch succeeded, Brazil would have
become Latin America's first country to enter space. Reading from
the report by the independent commission, Defense Minister Jose
Viegas said underfunding had left Brazil's space programs in a
"virtual state of hibernation for a dangerously long period."
"The prolonged existence of the project with a shortage of human
and material resources could have led to growing difficulties in
perceiving the degradation of working conditions and security," he
said. Viegas said no individual could be blamed for the accident.
Rather, his and previous governments should take responsibility for
failing "to resolve the difficult problem of maintaining investment
in our strategic programs and that in delaying to do so could cause
harm to the nation."
According to the report, Brazil spent less than $20 million on
its space programs last year. The space base had no functioning
weather radar, nor a meteorological expert, making space launches
unsafe. Viegas said the center-left government was committed to
relaunching the space program and investing $100 million in it this
year, making a new rocket launch possible by 2006. But he said a
long list of problems had to be addressed. There was no proper risk
management plan and staff were not told what they were meant to be
The report concluded that not all recommendations made after
Brazil's last failed space launch were followed. Brazil tried to
launch rockets in 1997 and 1999, but both had to be destroyed after
lift-off because of technical problems. The military, which is
ultimately in charge of Brazilian rocket projects, was criticized
by victims' families for surrounding the investigation with
secrecy. But a group representing the families said it accepted
Tuesday's conclusions. "The report satisfies all our questions,"
said Jose Oliveira, a representative of the group.
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