The missiles are really starting to fly.
North Korea fired off two short-range missiles in quick succession early this morning (May 9), according to media reports, conducting its second such test in less than a week. The United States followed suit with a much bigger launch of its own just minutes later.
The North Korean missiles took flight around 3:30 a.m. EDT (0730 GMT) from the city of Kusong and traveled eastward about 260 miles (420 kilometers) and 170 miles (270 km), respectively, the BBC reported, citing South Korean military officials.
The rogue nation also performed a short-range test on Saturday (May 4) — its first missile launch in 18 months. The smoke trail from that vehicle was spotted by one of Planet Labs' tiny, Earth-observing Dove cubesats.
Minutes later, at 3:40 a.m. EDT (0740 GMT, 12:40 a.m. local time), the U.S. launched an unarmed Minuteman III from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Minuteman III is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead thousands of miles.
The Minuteman launch was not a knee-jerk response to North Korea's latest test, however; the Air Force had already been planning the liftoff. And a Minuteman III also flew out of Vandenberg on May 1, before last week's North Korean test.
North Korea test-flew an ICBM of its own in November 2017, and the nation has a stockpile of nuclear weapons. The international community has repeatedly sanctioned North Korea over the years for its development of such technology.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants these penalties lifted or lessened and has met with U.S. officials, including President Donald Trump, to make his case. The recent missile tests may be a signal that North Korea is dissatisfied with the state of negotiations, experts have said.
Today's launches may also be a response to recent joint military exercises the U.S. has conducted with South Korea, the BBC reported. These exercises have long rankled North Korea's leadership.
- North Korea's Rockets and Missiles: 5 Interesting Facts
- How Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles Work (Infographic)
- North Korea's Missile Threats to US May Not Be Empty for Long
Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. EDT to state that the U.S. also launched a Minuteman III ICBM on May 1.
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.