The Proton-M rocket rose just above its launch tower during the early morning launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, wobbled and then tipped over into the desert in a ball of fire.
For Western commercial clients of Russia's space launch services and for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the Proton-M's short flight on Tuesday, the fourth Proton failure in three years, was sure to raise questions about safety.
In recent years, NASA has relied on Russia to provide transportation for American astronauts headed to the International Space Station. But those space flights 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.
In the video above, spectators watching from a nearby road. They realize something is wrong at about the 0:32 mark, and from there they narrate the event with a stream of Russian expletives (thanks to Atlantic editor Olga Khazan for help with the Russian). A news broadcast from Rossiya 24, a state channel, gives another perspective of the disaster, albeit with less colorful language ("It seems something is not right").