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
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.