A Russian space station supply ship failed to reach orbit and crashed with a thunderous boom into Siberia today, rattling NASA and others in this new era without any shuttles to bail out the orbiting outpost. The Soyuz rocket soared right on time from Kazakhstan, and everything seemed to be going perfectly until just over five minutes into the flight. The third-stage ignited, but the rocket commanded the engine to shut down because of a problem, said NASA's space station program manager. All contact with the spacecraft was lost. Russian space officials declared it a total failure after reports of wreckage falling with a deafening roar in a remote area of Siberia.
While the International Space Station has more than enough supplies, the rocket accident threatens to delay the launch of the next crew, just one month away. That's because the upper stage of the Soyuz rocket that failed is similar to the ones used to launch astronauts. In addition, three of the six space station residents who are due to return to Earth on Sept. 8 might end up staying longer. NASA wants to keep the outpost fully staffed with six to keep research going. Without the space shuttles, NASA is counting on Russia, Europe and Japan to keep the space station stocked, as well as private US businesses. And it's the Russians who will be transporting astronauts back and forth until US private industry can pick up the human load.