MOSCOW — An unmanned Russian supply ship bound for the International Space Station failed to reach its planned orbit Wednesday, and pieces of it fell in Siberia amid a thunderous explosion, officials said.
A brief statement from Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, did not specify whether the Progress supply ship that was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan had been lost. But the state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Alexander Borisov, head of the Choisky region in Russia's Altai province, as saying pieces of the craft fell in his area some 900 miles northeast of the launch site.
"The explosion was so strong that for 100 kilometers (60 miles) glass almost flew out of the windows," he was quoted as saying. Borisov said there were no immediate reports of casualties.
The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Choisky's Interior Ministry as saying the space ship crashed in a vast Siberian forest that contains small villages. Yuri Shmyrin, the chief of Karakoksha, one of those villages, told Interfax news agency that the search operation for the wreckage is not likely to start until this morning.
The Russian Emergencies Ministry could not be reached for comment.
Roscosmos said the third stage of the rocket firing the ship into space failed a few minutes into the launch. The ship was carrying more than 2.5 tons of supplies, including oxygen, food and fuel. Since the ending of the U.S. space shuttle program this summer, Russian spaceships are a main supply link to the space station. It was the 44th Progress to launch to the International Space Station.
Roscosmos said the accident "would have no negative influence" on the International Space Station crew because its existing supplies of food, water and oxygen are sufficient.
Interfax cited a Russian space analyst, Sergei Puzanov, as saying those supplies could last two to three months and that "the situation with the loss of the Progress cannot be called critical."
In the United States, NASA said the rocket appeared to function flawlessly at liftoff, which occurred right on time, but there was a loss of contact with the vehicle just over five minutes into the flight.
On NASA TV, Russian officials said the upper stage did not separate from the supply ship and that on two subsequent orbits controllers tried to contact the supply ship — in vain.