The technology behind launching a rocket is absolutely fascinating to most people as it has very quickly advanced over the years. As this technology has improved over the last 60 years, it is estimated that 35,000 rockets have been sent into space. With technology that is still relatively new to humanity and such a fast-paced rate of innovation, it is no surprise that rockets occasionally fail to launch as planned.
Here are five rocket launches caught on camera that went horribly wrong. Watch below:
5. Virginia – October 28, 2014: NASA launched an unmanned Antares rocket in an effort to deliver goods to the international space station. This mission had been successfully completed many times before, and it seemed to be another routine mission while the launch began as planned. Shortly after launching, an explosion in the rocket’s liquid oxygen turbopump within one of the engines caused it to lose its thrust and fall back to the ground. An investigation found that excessive friction in the rocket caused the explosion and they narrowed the cause down to three potential areas: inadequate design, debris in the engine, or a manufacturing defect.
4. Russia – July 1, 2013: This rocket was also unmanned, but carried 600 tons of kerosene, amyl, and heptyl fuel. Shortly after the rocket launched, it began to veer off course until breaking apart and falling back to land in a ball of fire, exploding with all of the chemicals on board. An investigation found that an emergency shutdown of the booster’s engine about 17 seconds into takeoff caused this rocket to fail, spilling chemicals all over the surrounding area.
3. Florida – January 17, 1997: GPS IIR-1 was the first Block IIR GPS Satellite to be launched and would have operated as part of the United States Air Force Global Positioning System – that is, if it didn’t absolutely explode 13 seconds after launch. An investigation found that a crack in the casing of the number 2 solid rocket motor formed at T+6 seconds, leading to issues that ultimately forced the manual destruct command to kick in at 1,600 feet in the air. Residents of the surrounding area were asked to stay indoors due to toxic vapors released from the crash, but nobody was killed.
2. Florida – December 6, 1957: The Vanguard TV-3 was the first attempt by the United States to get a satellite into orbit around the planet. Just two seconds after launch, the rocket began to lose thrust, fell back onto the launch pad, and exploded after the fuel tanks ruptured. This led to serious damage across the launch pad. An investigation was unable to determine the exact cause of the failure, but it is believed that there was a malfunction of the fuel system.
1. China – February 15, 1996: Intelsat 708 launched in the completely wrong direction, eventually turning into a ball of fire and crashing into a nearby village. This led to the death of local residents and the destruction of local buildings. The investigation realized a failure in the rocket’s guidance system, sparking a wave of political and industry changes.
The organizations that launch rockets into space literally spend years working on these projects to make sure everything will go as planned. Unfortunately, it only takes one slight error to bring those years of hard work crashing down. Successfully launching rockets is necessary to sustain GPS and other technologies required by modern-day life. Space organizations and programs continue to learn from these mistakes and push forward to make improvements.