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Rocket Explosion in Brazil Kills At Least 19 - 2003-08-23

A Brazilian rocket has exploded days before its scheduled launch into space, killing at least 19 people and injuring 20 others.

Brazilian officials say one of the four main boosters on the rocket ignited, causing a massive explosion that sent a thick plume of smoke in the air over the Alcantara Launch Center, located near Brazil's sparsely-populated northern coast.

Officials say the blast occurred without warning and caused the launching pad to collapse, killing civilian technicians who were concluding several days of tests ahead of the VLS rocket's launch scheduled for next week. Damage was limited to the launch area.

The rocket, valued at more than $2-million, was to carry two satellites, which would have made Brazil the first Latin American nation to launch a satellite into space on its own.

Two previous attempts also ended in failure. A rocket launched six years ago crashed into the ocean. Brazilian aerospace officials were forced to remotely destroy another rocket two years later when it developed problems minutes after takeoff.

Brazilian officials are expressing condolences to the families of those killed, and have pledged a thorough investigation of the incident.