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Russian rocket crashes in Kazakhstan

MOSCOW — An unmanned rocket carrying Russian satellites veered off course and crashed a few seconds after liftoff early Tuesday, sending a cloud of highly toxic orange fumes toward the Kazakh city of Baikonur only 50 miles away.

Fears that the toxic cloud would waft into Baikonur were eased later in the day, however, after heavy rains dispersed the fumes.

Photographs posted online had shown the ominous cloud stretching over buildings near the launching pad, and residents of Baikonur, population 70,000, had been instructed to stay indoors and refrain from using air conditioners.

The Proton-M rocket rose just above its launching tower at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, wobbled and then tipped over into the desert in a ball of fire.

The short flight Tuesday was the fourth Proton failure in three years, and it was sure to raise safety questions among NASA officials and Western commercial clients of Russia’s space services.

In recent years, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has relied on Russia to provide transportation for U.S. astronauts headed to the International Space Station. But those spaceflights have been powered by a Soyuz rocket that has a strong safety record.

The Russian space agency did not immediately offer an explanation for the crash.

There were no reported injuries at the site of the accident, an area that Russia rents for rocket launchings. But the short flight, instead of a journey to space, made for one of the most prominent rocket disasters in Russia’s space program in recent years.

“According to the preliminary estimates from the Russian side, there is no destruction and there are no casualties,” the Kazakh space agency, KazCosmos, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

—Andrew E. Kramer, The New York Times

Lawsuit aims to block horse meat inspections

Several animal rights groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Agriculture Department, seeking to prevent it from inspecting horse meat that some companies want to produce for human consumption.

Separately, the department announced its approval for horse slaughtering at a plant in Iowa, the second facility approved for processing equine meat in less than a week. On Friday, it said it would provide inspection services to the Valley Meat Co. in Roswell, N.M., for the same purpose.

Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, and Valley Meat would be the first two plants to process horses since 2007, when Congress effectively banned equine slaughter. The prohibition ended in 2011, and various companies, many backed by European investors, have sought inspection services for horse meat ever since.

The animal rights groups involved in the lawsuit — the Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue, Marin Humane Society, the Horses for Life Foundation and Return to Freedom, along with five individual plaintiffs — contend that the Agriculture Department did not perform reviews required by the National Environmental Protection Act before authorizing Valley Meat to operate.

“The USDA has failed to consider the basic fact that horses are not raised as a food animal,” Hilary Wood, president of Front Range Equine Rescue, said in a statement. “Horse owners provide their horses with a number of substances dangerous to human health. To blatantly ignore this fact jeopardizes human health as well as the environment surrounding a horse slaughter plant.”

Valley Meat has said it would test meat it produces to ensure that it does not contain any residues of certain harmful substances.

—Stephanie Strom, The New York Times