The Biggest BOOMS in Rocket History
– Hi it’s me Tim Dodd,the Everyday Astronaut!Space is hard. There’s a reason we use rocket scienceas a benchmark for anythingextremely difficult. I for one champion all things spaceand eagerly await everysingle upcoming space event. But, in order to move forward,we’d better have a look backat some past failures and seewhat we’ve learned from them. What better way to do that thanto watch some of the biggestbooms in spaceflight history?But as always on my channel,this isn’t just some randomcompilation of crazy explosionsnope sorry, you’re gonna learn something. I’ll be teaching you what went wrongand other random facts abouteach mission so we can learnwhile we watch some fireworks. After all, mistakes are only mistakesif you don’t learn anything from them. That being said, it’s time forsome of the biggestbooms in rocket history. Now before I start, I do wantto mention that I omittedany mission that had loss of life. Those are tragedies and theyneed to be treated in a waythat honors and respects the lives lostand the families, friendsand the people who dealwith that reality every day. After you watch this video,let me know if you want meto do any more of these. Maybe biggest face palms orfunniest moments, closest calls?Maybe all of ’em. Let me know. Oh and one last thing,these are in order of whatI think are spectacularand not necessarily in the orderof actual magnitude of explosions. Okay, enough talking, here we go. So let’s start off withperhaps my favorite boomsto come out of recent space history. Of course, I’m talking aboutSpaceX’s landing attemptswith their Falcon 9 rockets. We saw plenty of rapidunscheduled disassembliesas SpaceX honed in on theonce thought impossible. Propulsively landing and reusingan orbital class liquid fueled booster. Starting with their firstattempt at landing on theirautonomous spaceport droneship on January 10th, 2015. After a successful stage separation,the booster homed in onits landing platform. It fired up it’s centermerlin engine to performthe final landing burn. Woah, okay what went wrong there?The booster ran out of the hydraulic fluidthat powers the grid finswhich steer the boosterthrough the atmosphere justmoments before it touched down. They then remained stuckin a fixed position,causing the booster to go out of controljust before touching down. The engine gimbalcouldn’t correct for thisand it made the boostercome in all sorts of wonky. And don’t forget while watching thisthe ship its trying to land on is the sizeof what some people call a football field. – ‘Murica. – And the booster is 45meters or 150 feet tall. In other words, that’s a 15 story buildingcrashing down on the deck, woah. But this was a greatfirst attempt at landing,I mean after all they hit their targetfrom over 100 kilometersor 60 miles in altitude,after traveling over 7500 kilometersor about 4500 miles an hour while goingabout 300 kilometers or 185 milesdownrange from the launch site. The next attempt wasalso pretty spectacularfor mission CRS-6 on April 14th, 2015. Their second attempt atlanding on the drone shipgot even closer. It even kisses the deckthen touchdown, yeah. Oh wait, no, wait no, no. No, no, no gosh. That one was so close it hurts. Oh and watch this, thisis my favorite part. Check out that tinylittle nitrogen thrustertrying its absolute hardestto keep the Falcon 9 upright. You almost had it little buddy. Just before touchdown, thecenter Merlin 1D enginethat performs the landingburn experienced stiction,a word I was unfamiliarwith until I heard itin this context. In other words, it hada sticky throttle valve. This caused a delay in throttle inputs,which made the rocket havetoo much horizontal velocityas it touched down, andsubsequently tipped over. There are a few other great boomsas SpaceX figured outhow to land the Falcon 9. I definitely suggest watchingtheir hilarious video titled,how not to land an orbital class rocket. And don’t forget, thesewere experimental attemptsat doing something peoplethought was actually impossible. The primary mission on theseflights were still perfectlysuccessful, so these areprobably the biggest boomto success ratio ever,since it was just a bonusthat they landed, whichthey now do all the timewith great reliability. On June 11th 1957, theUnited States Air Forcelaunched the first ever Atlas Missile,the Convair SM-65A from Launch Complex 14in Cape Canaveral AirForce Station in Florida. Like all rockets in this video,it was of course uncrewed. This first version of theAtlas only had two enginesinstead of the famous three engine Atlasthat had that sustainer engineand stage and a half designlike the one that eventuallyput John Glenn into orbitless than five years later. Engine start went greatfollowed by a successful let goof the launcher release system. – The missilewas launched successfullyand the flight proceeded according to planfor some distance. During this time themissile was stable in pitch,yaw and roll. – All was going welluntil T plus 26 secondswhen the B-2 engine suddenly lost thrust,followed seconds later by the B-1 engine. The Atlas tumbled end over endwith a maximum altitude of2900 meters or 9800 feetbefore being remotely terminatedby the range safety officer,who I swear had to be sleeping on the job. I mean, look how long they let it flybefore they finallyhit the bye bye button. Come on, any day now Steve. Uhhh Steve?Steve?Any day, come on!Hey Steve?Steve!Steve!Finally, geez. – Debris from themissile fell on the test baseand in the sea justoffshore from the base. – So what went wrong?Well, it turns out hot exhaustgas from the thrust sectionwas destroying propellant lines,and the remedy to thiswas just a heat shieldwhich protected the engine area. Although this was a prettybig scary looking boom,since this was the firstever flight of the Atlas,it was actually considereda pretty big success. On December 12th, 1959 the United Statesawaits its sixth attemptat launching their newestand most advanced rocketat the time, the Titan 1. The Titan 1 was the US’s firstmultistage intercontinentalballistic missile. This was also the first time the Air Forcewould be utilizing theirbrand new launchpad,Launch Complex 16at Cape Canaveral AirForce Station in Florida. The rocket was fully fueledup, and upon engine ignition,the rocket suddenly beganshaking pretty excessively. Uh, what?So excessively in factit actually set the flighttermination system offwhile it was still on the pad. There goes that brandnew Launch Complex 16. Actually believe it or not,the launch pad became operational againless than 2 months later. It must have been thanks to thosewonderful little sprinklersgently hosing downthe hellish landscape thatonce was a launch pad. Convair, the manufacturerof the original Atlas rocketwas developing an advancedupper stage for their rockets. This upper stage was thefirst production rocket stageto use liquid hydrogen for its fuel. The centaur upper stage wouldgo on to do incredible thingsand is arguably the bestupper stage in the worldstill to this day. As a matter of fact, as of January 2018,it had been used on 245 missions. But on March 2nd, 1965,it wouldn’t get a chanceto spread its wings,or I guess I could saydidn’t get a chance to fire its engine. Engine ignition looked good,but then right after liftoff. So, what on earth happened here?Well, at T plus . 88 seconds,there was a sudden main fuel valve closurecausing the entire Atlas boosterto come straight back down on the pad. This created quite the boom. As a matter of fact,it was the biggest on padexplosion at Cape Canaveralfor over 5 decades untilour next boom happened. Rockets blowing up on the launch padwas fairly common in theearly days of spaceflight,but even modern rocketssometimes experiencefailures on the launch pad. On September 1st, 2016,SpaceX was preparingto do a hold down static fireof one of their Falcon 9 rockets. This was a pretty routinemission for SpaceX,preparing to put a 5500 kilogramor 12,000 pound satellite intogeostationary transfer orbitfor Spacecom with the AMOS-6 satellite. SpaceX does a static fireof all their rockets,multiple times even. If you want to know more about howor why SpaceX staticfires, I have this videothat goes into superdeep detail all about it. The fueling leading up to static firewas going completely as planneduntil out of the blue. . . No more rocket. No more 244 million dollar satellite. No more launch pad 40. This instant failurebaffled SpaceX engineerssince everything waslooking completely normalduring the fuel up with noinitial known cause of failure. Despite what the internet thought,surprisingly it wasn’t froma sniper on a nearby rooftopor a UFO. Or was it?No, no it wasn’t. After months of testing, a newfailure mode was discovered. Something that had nevereven been experiencedon any other rocket. This is due to SpaceXutilizing super chilled fueland oxidizer, they foundthat the liquid oxygenwas getting inside the carbon fiber bondsof the internal helium tankswhich maintain tank pressures. Once the liquid oxygen came in contactwith the even colder helium tank,it would turn into a solid,expand and then break apartthe carbon fiber weaveof the COPV or compositeover wrapped pressure vesselthat holds the helium. This caused the helium tank to releaseall of its pressure instantly,which then overpressurized the oxygen tankthat it lies inside,which then caused theentire vehicle to explode. SpaceX learned from this lessonand changed their fueling proceduresuntil a newly designedCOPV 2. 0 goes online. NASA made an awesome decisionto hire private companiesto deliver cargo to theinternational space stationafter the Space Shuttleprogram ended in 2011. This decision made for great competitionand brought the cost of deliverydown to an all time low. These missions known as CRS,or commercial resupply missionswere won by SpaceX and Orbital Sciences,who later was known as Orbital ATKwho just recently gotbought by Northrop Grummanand is now called NorthropGrumman Innovation Systems. Yeah. The program was looking fantasticwith four successful SpaceX launchesand two successful Orbital ATK launchesalready in the books. On October 28th 2014, OrbitalATK was poised to launch theirthird Cygnus spacecraft on topof their third Antares rocketdestined for theinternational space station. The Antares rocket took offat 7:22 and 38 secondsp. m. local eastern timefrom Orbital’s launch pad,the Mid-Atlantic RegionalSpaceport Launch Pad 0,or MARS LP-0A. – Mission to the ISS. That main engine’s at 108%. – 15 seconds after liftoff,the vehicle suddenly fallsapart from the bottom up. The vehicle fell right backdown on the launch pad,resulting in a huge, huge boom. – And launch team, launch teambe advised stay at your consoles. – I personally knowseveral launch photographersthat were there and felt this onefrom only a few miles away. My favorite quote comes fromphotographer Matt Travis exclaiming. . . – It’s gonna be loud. It’s gonna be loudHoly shh. Geez!- Yeah, geez that looks terrifying. I can’t even imagine. So what happened?The liquid oxygen turbopump suddenly explodedon one of the vehicles AJ-26 engines,which are just refurbishedleftover NK-33 enginesfrom the 1970s Soviet Unionplanned but never completedsecond generation moonrocket, or the N-1F. Luckily, of course, no one was hurtand the failure made Orbitalchange the Antares engineto the RD-181. Which ironically is the exact same movethe Russians made with their Soyuz 2. On July 16th 1959,NASA prepared to launchtheir third Juno II rocket. A rocket initially derivedfrom the Jupiter missiles,the Juno featured solidrocket booster upper stagescapable of putting about41 kilograms or 90 poundsinto low Earth Orbit. This particular mission,Explorer S-1 was the sixth flightof the explorers programwhose objectives wereto measure the Earth’s radiation balanceand other cosmic and x-rays. At 12:37 p. m. local eastern time,the Juno II took off fromCape Canaveral Air ForceStation’s Launch complex 5. Immediately after leaving the pad,the rocket suddenly veered off course. 5. 5 seconds into the flight,it was terminated by theRange Safety Officer,but it barely had a chance to detonatebefore erupting in an enormous fireball76 meters or 249 feetnorthwest of the pad. A short circuit of therocket’s guidance systemmade the Rocketdyne S-3D engine gimbalin the wrong direction,pointing the rocket west in an instant. The following investigationled to adding a conformalcoating to the circuit boardsthat helped protect theJuno II and similar rocketsfrom a similar fate. The Juno II ended upflying a total of 10 times,with only four successful flights. I’m pretty glad we’re beyondthose odds of success these days. On June 4th 1996, TheEuropean Space Agencywas ready to launch theirnewest rocket, the Ariane 5,which was an indirect follow upto their wildly successful Ariane 4. One of the most exciting features wasthis was designed to beable to fly humans as well. The Ariane 5 launches froma beautiful launch padlocated at the Guiana SpaceCenter in the French Guiana,an overseas region of Francelocated on the north easttip of South America,and situated very close to the equator. Speaking of launching fromthe equator this is somethingwe need to talk aboutin an upcoming video. Why it’s advantageous tolaunch near the equatorand why it’s not morecommon to actually do so. So, on a beautifulTuesday the world watchedas an exciting new heavylaunch vehicle sat waitingfor its maiden flightcarrying four Cluster spacecraftfor the European Space Agency. The Ariane 5 first powers upits Vulcain 2 cryogenic main enginesand then it sits on the paduntil it achieves full thrust. Then the two massive solidrocket boosters igniteand the vehicle leaps off the pad. All was looking really quitegood, but then suddenlyaround 30 seconds into the flight,the vehicle takes a hard 90 degree turnand disintegrates fromthe aerodynamic forces. The resulting fireballwas the automatic flighttermination systemwhich broke the vehicle apart. It was found that a malfunctionin the control softwarecaused the vehicle to thinkit was 90 degrees off course. The reason’s simple. The internal SRI software exceptionwas caused during executionof a data conversionfrom 64-bit floating point to16-bit signed integer value. The floating point numberhad a value greaterthan what could be representedby a 16-bit signed integer. This resulted in an Operand Error. This unexpected high value forinternal alignment functionresult called BH, or Horizontal Bias,related to the horizontalvelocity sensed by the platform. The value of BH was muchhigher than expectedbecause the early partof the flight trajectoryof the Ariane 5 differsfrom that of Ariane 4and results in considerably higherhorizontal velocity values. Duh. In other words, this wasone of the most expensivesoftware bugs in history,costing 370 million dollars. This launch is definitely fodderfor the biggest face palmsof spaceflight history becausethey used the same initialreference system as the Ariane 4but they didn’t test it before handwith the Ariane 5’s flight profile. The data overwhelmed thecomputer causing it to error out. It would’ve been easilyavoidable and discoveredwith a simple ground simulation. Whoops. But since then the Ariane 5has gone on to launch 97 times,with one more boomy failureand three more not so boomie failures. Not bad, not bad. I still think it’s a supercool looking vehicle. On July 2nd 2013, Russiaprepared for a fairly routinelaunch of their Proton-M rocketto put three new GLONASSnavigation satellites into space. As a matter of fact, it wasgoing to be the 388th launchof the Proton rocket,so this is about as routine as it gets. The launch went off right onschedule at 8:38 local timefrom the Baikonur Cosmodromesite 81 pad 24 in Kazakhstan. Almost immediately after leaving the pad,the rocket began to veeroff in one direction,and then some of the six RD-276 engineswould gimbal in the other directionas it began to clearly go off course. Now hold on here. At this point, wouldn’t youthink the Russian Space Agencyor ROSCOSMOS would terminate this rocket?I mean it’s 90 degrees off courseand that’s a giant 19 storytall, 68 metric ton missile. Well unlike pretty muchthe rest of the world,Russia doesn’t believe inself destruct explosives. Let’s see how this one goes. The payload fairing andupper stage gets ripped apartby the aerodynamic stressesas the vehicle plummets back to earth,engines still firing full bore. The rocket didn’t releaseall of its explosive energyuntil impacting the ground,resulting in a huge fireball. There are so many videosof this particular crashfrom varying terrifyinglyclose vantage pointsthat shakes spectatorswhen the boom hits them. – Is it coming this way?- Investigators found out thatthree of the first stage angularvelocity sensors wereinstalled upside down. And this took someserious physical effort. In fact there’s arrows thatare pointing up on the sensorsthat were installed pointing down. The sensors are only designedto fit in one direction,so it sounds like thetechnician potentiallyhit them in place with a hammerand this somehow went unnoticedby quality control and supervisors. Okay, so again, this is anothermassive massive face palm. But, this one is also sucha big and dramatic boom. Due to the Proton utilizessuper toxic hypergolic fuels,this event is considered by someto be the largest amountof ground pollutionever caused by a rocket. The United States NationalReconnaissance Officewas set to launch theirseventh secret satelliteto geostationary orbit launchingon top of a Titan IV rocketfrom Cape Canaveral AirForce Base in Florida. The Titan IV comes from a long family treeof rockets and this is themost powerful and most capableversion featuring twomassive solid rocket boosterson either side of the rocket. August 12, 1998 was apicture perfect morning,and the Titan IV had a successful lift offat 7:30 a. m. local time. – Liftoffof America’s silent herothe Air Force Titan IV. The is the final Titan IV to be flown. The vehicle has rolled tothe proper flight admin. We’re at T plus, 18, 19, 20 seconds. Currently the twin solid rocket motorsare performing nominally. T plus 40 seconds. Oh no. – But sometime just before the vehiclereached maximum aerodynamicpressure or Max Q,it suddenly burst into adramatic fireworks display. The cause was an electrical shortwhich made the guidancecomputer momentarily shut downat T plus 39 seconds. A mere second later its power was restoredbut the computer overreactedand sent commandsto aggressively pitch and yaw the rocketto correct its course. The rocket couldn’t handlethe significant changein course as it approached Max Q,and the forces ripped oneof the solid rocket boostersright off, which triggeredthe self destruct sequenceof that booster, and subsequentlythe rest of the vehicle. An investigation showed thatthis particular booster,the last Titan IV-A to launch,had been sitting around for several years. It had dozens of damaged or chafed wiresthat should never have beenlaunched in the first place. The Air Force was pushing fora launch on demand programfor the DOD, and this particular failuremade them reevaluate how tohandle such tight deadlines. Oh, number two huh?This better be good. Well, this one is somethingspecial I can tell you that. On January 17th 1997, the US Air Forcewas set to launch their firstGPS version II satelliteon top of the most Kerbal of all rockets,of course I’m talking about the Delta IIwith nine strap on solid rocket boosters. You can never have toomany boosters, or can you?Dun dun dun. Well at 11:28 the Delta IIhad a successful lift offfrom Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’sSpace Launch Complex 17A. – Delta II launch vehiclecarrying the new GPS to our satellite. We have had an anomaly. – Next thing you know the rocketturned into a giant fireworkraining fire all overFlorida’s Space Coastfrom only about 500 meters or1600 feet above the ground. – We need to secure the area. – 250 tons of debris raineddown within a full kilometerof the launch pad, evendestroying around 20 carsparked outside the blockhousewhere ground crew were safeish. This led to some interestinginsurance claims,like Brian Modsell, havingto tell his insurance companythat his truck got hit by a rocket. The explosion was the result of a failureof one of the solid rocket boosters. The casing was damagedduring the transportationon a newly introduced system. The rocket casing ofthe number 2 GEM-40 SRBstarted to grow at T plus six secondsand eventually ruptured,causing the number eight SRBto fail which thencaused the entire vehicleto automatically self destruct. And even so A few seconds later,the range safety officer sent commandsto destroy the rest of the vehiclein case there were anylarge pieces remaining. To me, that has to go downas one of the most epic boomsin all of spaceflight history. But not quite the most epic. That has to go to. You had to see this one coming right?Well if you didn’t get ready. We definitely saved the best for last. In the late 1960s the UnitedStates and the Soviet Unionwere deep in a space racewith the new end goal ofputting a human on the moon. This led to the most feverishpaced rocket evolutionin spaceflight historygoing from just launchingsmall sub orbital missilesto the largest rocketsever made still to this dayin less than a decade. It’s easy to remember thewildly successful and iconicSaturn V that the United States developed,but did you know therewas a Soviet counterpartthat was even morepowerful and in my opinionway, way crazier. And maybe the craziest thingis we didn’t really knowmuch about the Soviet’s lunar programuntil after the collapse ofthe Soviet Union in 1991. Welcome the N1. Although slightlyshorter than the Saturn Vthe N1 was insanely massive. The bottom of the vehicle was an insane17 meters or 55 feet wide andhad 30 NK-15 engines on it. Yeah, and you thoughtthe Falcon Heavy’s 27 engines was a lot. Now imagine trying tocontrol 30 relatively newand not well very tested enginesusing a 1960s Soviet era flight computer. You get where this is going. The first launch went fairly well,I guess considering twoengines were shut downby T plus 6 seconds, propellantleaked, a fire started,electrical shorts happened. And by T plus 68 seconds the first stagewas automatically shutdown by the computer. Not bad actually. Well on July 3rd, 1969the Soviet Union was set tolaunch their second N1 rocket. So this second launch hadsome big shoes to fill. The Soviets were hoping to do a moon flybyto take pictures of possiblecrewed landing sites. So at 11:18 p. m. local time,site 110 at BaikonurCosmodrome roared to lifewith the ignition of all 30 NK-15 engines. For the first few secondseverything looked great. Until. You just witnessed thelargest known non-nuclear,human made explosion in history. Over 2000 metric tons ofpropellant blew up in an instantand some fuel even managed torain down on the launch padfor the next hour and a half. So what happened?A lot. As soon as the rocket cleared the towerwe saw a large flashand a bunch of parts ofthe rocket falling off. Um we might need those. All but one engine, plucky ole engine 18,shutdown in an instant. But due to number 18 staying on,the entire rocket pitchedover to a 45 degree anglewhen it hit the ground. The problem arose when before liftoffthe number eight enginehad its LOX turbo pumpexplode which then severedthe surrounding prop lines. The KORD computer systemthat controlled the enginesautomatically shuts down theopposite engine if one fails,so right away, number eight’sopposite engine shut down,number 20, followed by numberseven, number 19, and 21. But perhaps the biggest failureis that the Soviets didn’thave a way to test the rocketwithout launching it. The first stage was so big,it couldn’t be sent to thelaunch pad in one pieceand instead it had to beassembled with each launch. Worse of all, they only tested about twoout of every six engines andnone of those engines testedwere the actual flight unitsbecause they used pyrotechnic valvesthat could only be used onceinstead of hydraulic or mechanical valves. This in my opinion is wherethey truly went wrong. With the pressure to keepup with the United States,and a lack of funding, theypushed their luck too far. This launch destroyedthe launch complex so badit took 18 months to rebuild it. By this point there waslittle motivation or fundingto continue the N1 programso it only launched two more timesbefore ultimately being canceled. Dang it, I really reallywant to see an N1 succeed. There were even three other N1’sthat could’ve flown thatwound up being scrapped. What a shame. Let’s start a Kickstarterto build a full scale N1replica to put somewhere. Maybe my backyard. So there you have it. We had some prettyserious booms there, huh?I hope you had some fun watching this,but more importantly I reallyhope you learned something. Let me know if you enjoyedthis style of video. I haven’t really donea countdown like thisso if you do like it perhapsI could be talked into doingthe biggest face palms,the funniest momentsand closest calls in space flight historyWhat other questions doyou have about spaceflight?Well, let me know yourthoughts or commentsor video suggestionsin the comments below. What’d you think about mewearing just a spacesuittee shirt instead of myspacesuit the whole time?It’s so hot and uncomfortable up hereI couldn’t imagine wearing that spacesuitfor the hours, and hours,and hours that I recordedthis video. Take this poll here, letme know what you think. As always I owe a huge thankyou to my Patreon supportersfor helping make this andevery other everyday astronautcontent possible. I owe a super specialthanks to those Patreonsin our exclusive discordand exclusive subredditfor helping me script and research. If you wanna help contribute please visitpatreon. com/everydayastronaut. Thank you. Don’t forget to check out my web storefor shirts, hats, mugs,prints of rocket launchesor other original artworkat everydayastronaut. com/shop. Thanks everybody, that does it for me. I’m Tim Dodd, the everyday astronautbringing space down toearth for everyday people.