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Third Time Unlucky

An unmanned rocket carrying supplies to the International Space Station has exploded shortly after liftoff. It's the latest in a string of mishaps to hit the US space program, and it marks a setback for private companies aiming to develop manned spacecraft.

The rocket was launched by the US company Space X. NASA says the Falcon-9 rocket broke apart about 2 minutes after liftoff on Sunday from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The rocket was carrying a cargo transporter with around 1.8 tons of food, equipment for experiments, and other supplies.

Officials from NASA and SpaceX are investigating the cause of the accident. SpaceX's chief executive spoke by phone at a news conference afterward.

He says they saw some pressurization indications in the second stage, which they will be tracking down and following up on. He says they also received telemetry from Dragon after the event as well.

Missions to the ISS have now failed 3 times in a row. In October, a rocket built by a US private-sector firm was destroyed in a launch accident, and a Russian space freighter headed for the ISS fell out of control and burned up earlier this year.

With Sunday's explosion, experts at Chiba Institute of Technology have lost 2 cameras they developed to observe meteors.

A scientist of the institute, Tomoko Arai, was at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch. She expressed bewilderment over the accident. She says that at first, she thought the launch had succeeded. She was surprised to learn it failed due to a malfunction, and can't believe an incident like this happened two times in a row.

Loss of the cargo shipment doesn't pose an immediate problem for the 3 ISS crew members. They have enough food and supplies on board to last about 4 months.

But the failure of a third unmanned rocket is a blow to companies that are trying to develop manned spacecraft, and experts say the failure is a headache for NASA, which planned to let private companies ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, starting 2 years from now.

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