"All guilty had been punished already."
August 31, 2006 10:53 AM   Subscribe

The Nedelin disaster remains the most fatal catastrophe in the history of rocketry. On October 26, 1960 an R-16 ICBM designed by Mikhail Yangel accidentally ignited killing over 100 within moments. The incident remained in strict secrecy for thirty years until it was unearthed by James Oberg. The true casualty rate remains a mystery and Kazakhstan still sees more than its fair share of rocket mishaps.
posted by Alison (16 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Oo, that video is pretty spectacular.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:11 AM on August 31, 2006

I've read the account at your first link before and still find the very thought of all those men incinerated like that chilling. Good post.
posted by briank at 11:12 AM on August 31, 2006

that is a wondrous explosion in the video.
CGI people should study the patterns.
nothing matches the real thing (even in this pixelated form)
(I also some guy's 'Hey-oi!' as he realizes, before others, that the rocket's coming back down.

I'd never heard of the Nedelin disaster before today, thanks.
posted by Busithoth at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2006

Nifty, Alison. Thanks!
posted by Iridic at 11:53 AM on August 31, 2006

Great post. Harrowing video.
posted by kosem at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2006

So what exactly happened in the video? When did everything go pear-shaped?
posted by smackfu at 12:28 PM on August 31, 2006

Great post, important history long secret and very well done, Alison. But sadly, this may not be the worst space launch castastrophe.

On Feb, 14 1996, China launched a Long March rocket (fueled with the same dangerous fuel as the Russian R-16) that came down on a populated area 22 seconds after liftoff. The official death toll was 6, but an entire village of over 80 homes was obliterated. Chinese officials speaking off-the record later were said to have 'hinted' that the number of dead was 'over 50'. It might have been in the hundreds.
posted by Jos Bleau at 12:44 PM on August 31, 2006

Here's some previous info on and pictures of Baikonur down-range debris on the Kazakh steppes. Crazy.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 1:37 PM on August 31, 2006

The History Channel ran a show called "Secrets of Soviet Space Disasters" that's been on my TiVo for more than a year. It mentions this disaster (without going into too much detail), and claims that the the rocket's volatile fuel was nicknamed "devil's venom".
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2006

I love that documentary. That is where I first heard about the Salyut 1/Soyuz 11 disaster. The crew was accidentally exposed to the vacuum of space on descent and all on board perished from asphyxiation. The 35th anniversary just passed.
posted by Alison at 3:17 PM on August 31, 2006

That's an incredible piece of video.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:25 PM on August 31, 2006

Here's the video of the Long March rocket failure. Terrifying to behold, and I have a hard time believing the casualties were so few.
posted by tomble at 6:17 AM on September 1, 2006

Wow, that Long March explosion is also very frightening. Note how few people seem to be on the ground in the destroyed village. I wonder who the English-speakers are in the van as it passes through the destruction?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 8:16 AM on September 1, 2006

Wow! I'd only seen still pictures of the Long March failure until now. It's amazing how wrong it went and how quickly. What were they thinking launching something like that so close to even sparesely populated areas? I can see why the final death toll is doubted.
posted by Alison at 8:44 AM on September 1, 2006

Also, since we are sharing rocket explosion videos. I found one of a spectacular explosion at Cape Canaveral.
posted by Alison at 8:45 AM on September 1, 2006

Another James Oberg article, Phantoms of Space, discusses the likelihood of fatal in-flight Russian space accidents:
...on February 4th [1961], the Russians announced the launching of a seven-ton Sputnik. The flight of this heaviest-ever satellite was surrounded by mystery. The Russians said little about it at first, leaving Western specialists to conclude that the actual results of the launching were unexpected. Somebody tuned in on 22 mhz and heard "moans and heartbeats". Someone else heard Russian morse code.

Was this a manned shot? Had the pilot been-incapacitated at launch, and was he now flying through space, slowly dying in the interplanetary vastness?

The Russians were obviously covering up something. A series of lesser scientists were trotted out to talk about the advances and experiments on the new Sputnik. It would "study the earth as a planet". It had "a series of new scientific instruments". It "brought the first manned flight closer".

An Italian physiologist, listening to a tape of the "heartbeats", said that they were obviously from a dying man.

Knowledgeable observers have called this last report "utter nonsense". Some have used stronger words. Biomedical data from space is encoded onto telemetry carrier signals which are then decoded on the ground. Heartbeat, breath rate, temperature, etc., are all encoded together; the signal sounds like chirping or organ piping. It does not sound like heartbeats.
Even so, imagine.

Yuri Gagarin's historic orbital flight aboard Vostok 1 occurred shortly afterwards on April 10, 1961. Gagarin never flew in space again: he was killed in a controversial MiG-15 training flight crash on March 27, 1968.
posted by cenoxo at 7:00 PM on September 1, 2006

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