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Putin Orders 'Radical' Russian Space Improvements

The Russian cargo ship crashed just minutes after launch on a mission to the International Space Station.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has instructed the Russian space agency to "radically" improve its oversight of spacecraft production.

His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that "Putin has instructed Roskosmos to radically change the quality-control and inspection system it uses during the production of spacecraft."

The order comes a day after a Russian craft carrying tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) crashed shortly after blast-off.

Search teams have continued to look for pieces of the cargo ship, which exploded about five minutes after it launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The explosion occurred after a problem appeared to develop in the propulsion system.

Fragments of the craft crashed into Russia's remote Siberian region of Altai, on the border with Mongolia and China.

Officials in Russia's Altai Republic say villagers living in the vicinity of the rocket crash are complaining of ill-health possibly caused by toxic space debris.

Doctors told Interfax news agency that eight residents of the Choisk district had complained that they had high blood pressure, throat irritation, and high temperature.

The ship was carrying nearly 3 tons of cargo -- mainly fuel, oxygen, food, and water -- for the six Russian, American, and Japanese crew members currently aboard the space station.

Officials said the crew members still have plentiful supplies of food and water on board.

But Michael Suffredini, space station program manager for the U.S. space agency NASA, said the failure could affect the planned September 22 launch of a Russian Soyuz rocket to carry a new crew to the space station.

"Obviously, this has implications," Suffredini said. "Our Russian colleagues will begin the process of forming a commission, which I'm sure they've already done, and we'll immediately begin to assess the data that's available to try to determine root cause [of the failure]."

The rocket failure occurred just one month after NASA carried out its final space-shuttle flight. Russian Soyuz craft are now the only way to deliver new crew members to the space station.

Russian officials have said the launches of Soyuz carrier rockets would be halted until the reasons for the accident become clear.

compiled from agency reports