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R-16 explosion R-16 explosion
Mishaps of the Space Age
1960: R-16

The "R-16," a new Soviet two-stage rocket, underwent a test in Tyuratam, Russia in October. Under pressure to demonstrate that the Soviets possessed operational intercontinental ballistic missiles, Soviet Field Marshal Mitrofan Nedelin arrived to personally oversee the rocket's launch. Problems developed before the test, but Nedelin ordered it to continue, refusing to drain the rocket of its propellant and make repairs, as workers suggested.

Field Marshal Nedelin Field Marshal Nedelin

Because of a bad wiring connection, a command signal was sent to the second stage and ignited the engine. The engine then burned through the first stage upper tank, causing it to explode. Much of the acid formed a toxic cloud that seared the lungs of nearby workers and onlookers. At least 91 people were killed,including Field Marshal Nedelin.

Continue: 1966

Photos: courtesy of the Ultimax Group, Inc. and VideoCosmos, Ltd.

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