SAO LUIS, BRAZIL — Some of the bodies of the 21 people killed when a Brazilian space rocket exploded before its launch have been so badly damaged that they will need DNA testing to be identified, officials said on Saturday.

The unmanned rocket, designed to carry two satellites into orbit, exploded on Friday at a jungle base of Alcantara, in the northeastern state of Maranhao, after an engine ignited by mistake. The accident ended Brazil's third effort to fulfill a dream of becoming a space power.

"The heat was intense and you could see bits of the bodies."

Jose de Ribamar Cruz Ribeiro, director of the Criminal Institute of Maranhao state, said 21 people had died in the blast. State security officials confirmed the death toll. On Friday, officials said 19 people had died.

"I've never seen anything like it," Ribeiro said after visiting the base. "The heat was intense and you could see bits of the bodies."

Two bodies have so far been recovered from the site on the heavily guarded base which juts out into the Atlantic ocean just south of the equator. The Air Force command posted a list of the dead on its Internet site.

Nearly 800 people were on the site of the $6.5 million, 65-foot so-called Satellite Launch Vehicle when it blew up. It was standing on a launch pad undergoing final tests after which it would have been ready for lift off next week.

Space Effort To Continue
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva gave his condolences to the families on Friday, but said the country's space program would continue. Defense Minister Jose Viegas is due to visit the Alcantara base later on Saturday.

Luiz Bevilacqua, the president of the Brazilian Space Agency, was quoted as saying the accident could have been avoided if Brazil had invested more in its space program.

"Space technology is vital for Brazil, that's indisputable," he was quoted as saying by Radiobras agency.

"We either dominate this technology and say Brazil can do this on its own, or we will continue to depend on the good will of other countries for space data or pay a fortune to those countries that have satellites in orbit," he said.

Rockets launched by Brazil in 1997 and 1999 were destroyed shortly after lift-off because of technical problems.

Brazil has aspirations for Alcantara to become a major international commercial satellite launch center.

The base is close to the Equator, allowing rockets to use less fuel to reach orbit and carry larger payloads because they catch a ride on the Earth's centrifugal forces.

Bevilacqua said 35 million reals (nearly $12 million) was budgeted for the space program in 2003, but some 102 million reals would be needed.

"But if we get 80 million reals it would be an important step," he said.