Russian Rocket Carrying Satellites Plunges Into Ocean

Russian news reported over the weekend that a rocket carrying three satellites meant to enhance a system in Russia similar to GPS crashed into the ocean off the coast of Hawaii. It wasn't the only setback for Russian technology: On Saturday, a Dagestan Air jetliner carrying some 150 passengers lost two of three engines leaving Moscow.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go next to Russia, where the news over the weekend was devoted to a pair of crash landings. Yesterday, a Russian rocket failed to reach orbit, and its payload, according to Russian news agencies, plunged into the Pacific Ocean. A day before that, a Russian jetliner was forced to make an emergency landing and skidded off the runway, killing two people.

NPR's David Greene has more.

DAVID GREENE: The rocket launch was part of Russia's race to match the U.S. in communications technology. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced last week that Russia's global navigation satellite system was nearly complete. By the end of the year, Russia would have its own version of GPS going at full speed, helping people get around on Earth. But this depended on three satellites reaching orbit yesterday, and that was not to be.

The rocket carrying the satellites blasted off from the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan. What happened next is still sketchy. At first, a Russian space official informed Reuters of an unplanned situation. Later, the agency announced that, indeed, the satellites have gone off course.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

Unidentified Man (News Reporter): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Russian news outlets reported where the satellites ended up, back in the atmosphere and into the Pacific Ocean 900 miles from Honolulu. Yevgeny Belyanko, whose company handles electronics for the global positioning system, did damage control.

Mr. YEVGENY BELYANKO: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: He insisted this was no great tragedy, and he said there are enough satellites already in orbit to ensure GPS-like coverage across Russia - perhaps just not as reliably in places.

The rocket failure wasn't the only setback for Russian technology. On Saturday, a Dagestan Air jetliner carrying some 150 passengers, lost two of three engines leaving Moscow. As the pilot desperately tried to land, the third and final engine failed. The plane split up on a snowy runway, somehow killing just two people.

President MAGOMEDSALAM MAGOMEDOV (Dagestan): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Magomedsalam Magomedov, the president of the Russian Republic of Dagestan, was reassuring travelers and also dealing with his own tragedy. His own brother was a passenger and would become one of the two fatalities.

The troubled aircraft was a Soviet Air Tupelov 154. That noisy, workman-like plane has had so many problems, Russia's national airline, Aeroflot, quit using them this year. It was a Tupelov 154 that crashed in April, killing 96 passengers, including Poland's president.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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