Jul 27, 2011 9:33 PM by Ariel Wesler

Minuteman III missile launch fails minutes after launch

A missile test at Vandenberg Air Force Base this morning ends in failure. Air Force officials say they had to destroy the unarmed Minuteman 3 missile just minutes after launch because of safety concerns.

The missile blasted off from the base on time at 3:01 a.m. It was supposed to travel about 4200 miles southwest to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, but did not reach its target.

There have been problems with both Minuteman 3 missile tests so far this year. Just five weeks ago, the launch had a communications glitch. That missile eventually reached its target, but that was not the case Wednesday morning.

Air Force officials say most of the mission went as planned, but just five minutes into the flight, something went wrong.

"We detected an anomaly and we initiated termination orders," said Lt. Col. Ron Watrous with Air Force Global Strike at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Officials wouldn't explain what the anomaly was but say they're investigating what caused it. The missile had to be destroyed northeast of its target in the Marshall Islands.

"It impacted in the ocean, well out, from any populated area," Watrous said.

Air force Global Strike Command is in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal.

"We do test launches periodically throughout the year to make sure we see what the systems do and make sure they work as they're intended to," Watrous said.

The first Minuteman 3 launched more than 40 years ago. The $7 million nuclear missile is built by Boeing. It's one of the company's longest contracts with the U.S. military. The missile comes apart in stages. On the way to it's target, it shoots 700 miles above the earth and reaches speeds of up to 15,000 miles per hour. The Air Force has 450 missiles on alert near bases in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming, but they do their testing at Vandenberg.

In case you're curious, the name "Minuteman" comes from the Revolutionary War's Minutemen. It also refers to its quick reaction time. The missile can be launched in about a minute.

The next Minuteman 3 launch is scheduled for September.


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