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Research Rocket Lights Up Sky

September 23, 2005|From Associated Press

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — A rocket carrying a military research satellite blasted off Thursday evening, dazzling spectators from California to Arizona with a rainbow of colors as it streaked across the sky at dusk.

The Minotaur rocket carrying a DARPA payload launched into orbit at 7:24 p.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base, said Maj. Todd Fleming.

DARPA is the research and development arm of the Pentagon. The 920-pound "Streak" payload will stay in orbit for a year, gathering information about the Earth's environment in low orbit. The mission's cost is classified.

The payload was so named because of the streaking movement it makes across the sky.

After blastoff, the rocket -- made from decommissioned first and second stages of a Minuteman 2 missile -- headed over the Pacific.

"I've never seen anything like that," said Ken Baker, who was driving along Pacific Coast Highway from El Segundo to Manhattan Beach when he saw the rocket.

"It almost looked like a laser, it was so bright," he said.

People throughout Central and Southern California and parts of Arizona also reported seeing the launch, with some voicing concerns that it might have been an explosion or terrorist attack.

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