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Rocket explosions spell spaceflight risks

03 Nov 2014  | George Leopold

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Escape tower

Once NASA began planning for manned spaceflight, it also had to test launch escape systems that would pull the spacecraft away from an errant booster. The escape tower accidently ignited during a test of the Mercury-Redstone rocket in the early 1960s. The Redstone was later used for the first two American manned flights.

Atlas rocket

An Atlas rocket that would eventually be used to carry the first Americans into orbit explodes on the pad during a 1960 flight test. Only the pressurized skin of the fully fuelled Atlas booster keeps the rocket from collapsing under the weight of its payload.

Apollo rubble

The rubble on an Apollo third-stage engine test stand after an explosion in the mid-1960s. According to a NASA accident report, "Post-accident investigation revealed that one of the eight ambient temperature helium storage spheres located on the engine thrust structure exploded because of weld weakness resulting from use of the wrong weld material."

Russian N1

Likely the largest rocket launch disaster of all time was the explosion of a Russian N1, the Soviet Union's answer to the Apollo Saturn V moon rocket. The gigantic unmanned rocket exploded about 70 seconds after launch in early 1969, effectively ending the race to the moon.

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