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Saturday, August 23, 2008

NASA destroys rocket after failed launch

NASA destroyed an unmanned experimental rocket carrying a pair of research satellites Friday when it veered off course shortly after an early morning liftoff.

There were no injuries or confirmed reports of property damage, according to NASA, but the agency warned that debris from the explosion could be hazardous. NASA believes most of the wreckage fell into the Atlantic Ocean off the Virginia coast.
Officials said the rocket — a prototype made by Alliant Techsystems Inc., or ATK — was destroyed by remote control 27 seconds into the predawn flight. It was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet high when it exploded. Officials said they do not know why it veered off course. It was destroyed to avoid endangering the public.
"I would be surprised if we don't know what happened fairly quickly," said Kent Rominger, an ex-astronaut who is now vice president of advanced programs for the company's launch systems.
NASA had paid $17 million for the two hypersonic flight research satellites and flight preparations. Rominger declined to put a value on the one-of-a-kind rocket, which he said was developed over the past few years to learn firsthand about launch vehicles and to test new technologies. The Minneapolis-based ATK makes the solid-rocket boosters for NASA's space shuttles and is working with the space agency on its new moon rockets.
Rominger called Friday's accident "a very big disappointment but not a setback."
"We knew the risks of launching payloads on a first-of-a-kind rocket," said Juan Alonso, director of NASA's fundamental aeronautics program.


Venezuela has found the first fossils of an extinct scimitar cat -- of the saber-toothed cat genus -- in South America, during oil prospecting activities southeast of Caracas, paleontologists announced.
"It's South America's most important discovery in 60 years," Venezuelan Institute of Scientific Investigation paleontologist Ascanio Rincon told AFP on Monday.
He said fossils of six scimitar cats, or Homotherium, were found along with those of panthers, wolves, camels, condors, ducks and horses, all from about 1.8 million years ago, by a Petroleos de Venezuela team looking for oil in Monagas state in 2006.
The most important find, he said, was the complete skull of a scimitar cat, an animal never before found in South America.
"For us it's a milestone and opens a window to the past."
The scimitar cat, a smaller version of the saber-toothed tiger with a hyena-like appearance and smaller, crenelated teeth, was believed to have only inhabited Africa, Eurasia and North America between five million and 10,000 years ago.
Rincon estimated the scimitar cat became extinct in South America about 500,000 years ago.
He said the finding proved the scimitar cat shared the same habitat with the saber-toothed tiger in South America. Saber-toothed tiger fossils have been found in both North and South America.
Rincon said the fossil find would expand his research into the lifestyle of the extinct big cats

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