PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Defying warnings from the international community, North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Friday, but it broke apart before escaping the earth's atmosphere and fell into the sea.
The launch drew condemnation from United States and countries in the region, as well as an unusual admission of failure from Pyongyang, which had invited in journalists and space experts from around the world for the occasion.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Friday to discuss the launch, which North Korea insists was intended to put an observation satellite in orbit. The United States, South Korea and Japan say the operation is a cover for a ballistic missile test.
In a break from previous practice, the North Korean state media announced that the rocket had not managed to put the satellite into orbit. In the past, North Korea has insisted that failed launches have been successful.
"Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," the official Korean Central News Agency said in a report, which was also read out in a news broadcast on state-run television.
The flunked launch is an inauspicious development for the insular North Korean regime and its young leader, Kim Jong Un, just two days before the 100th anniversary of the birth of the communist state's founder, a landmark occasion.
Earlier this week, state media had heralded the launch as "an inspiring deed and an event of historic significance of the nation as it demonstrates the leaping development of space science and technology of the country."
Joseph Cirincione, president of the global security foundation The Ploughshares Fund, said that the launch's apparent failure "shows the weakness of the North Korea missile program."
"It's a humiliation," he said. "I wouldn't want to be a North Korean rocket scientist today."
The rocket's short, fruitless flight soothed some concerns among North Korea's neighbors, which had feared parts of the projectile could threaten their territory. But the failure also raised questions about Pyongyang's next move.
"It flew about a minute, and it flew into the ocean," said Noriyuki Shikata, a spokesman for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. He added that Japanese authorities, which had deployed missile defenses, "have not identified any negative impacts, so far."
South Korea, which has criticized the launch as a "grave provocation," said it was searching the waters near where the rocket fell for debris -- a chance to gain insights into the North's technology.
Governments insisted that Pyongyang would still face consequences for flaunting U.N. resolutions.
The White House press secretary, in a statement, said that North Korea's failed launch "threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments."
The statement added, "North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts."
Shikata, the Japanese prime minister's spokesman, said the international ramifications could be significant. "This is something that we think is a regrettable development," he said.
"Our government strongly criticizes their action," said South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Sung-hwan. "They have ignored the starvation of their people and spent money on missiles. It is very unfortunate."
The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday on the launch, two U.N. diplomats and a U.S. official told CNN. The meeting had previously been scheduled, U.S. officials said.
At the United Nations, diplomats had warned that Pyongyang would face further isolation if it went ahead.