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This article was published on August 12, 2012

A world tour of failed rocket launches

A world tour of failed rocket launches
Jacob Lewis
Story by

Jacob Lewis

Journalist and travel addict. Journalist and travel addict.

Humans have been messing around with rockets ever since the Chinese invented gunpowder and started shooting fireworks at each other. Since then we’ve had a lots of time to practice and we’ve come a long way with rocket technology, so why do scientists still manage to regularly blow up their expensive inventions? Here are some examples of when rockets go wrong — with a fireworks accident thrown in for good measure.


The Russians haven’t had much luck of late, they’re lagging behind in the Olympics, getting their knickers in a twist over a bit of Pussy Riot and now they’ve misfired their shiny new rocket. It’s enough to make you miss those good old cold war days of suspiciously manly female athletes and the terrifying threat of nuclear holocaust.

The Russian space agency Roscosmos suspended the use of its Proton-M rocket carriers after they left their cargo stranded in the wrong bit of space. The rocket’s Briz-M boosters failed to push their cargo of two satellites far enough into orbit and in the process turned its million pound cargo into just another useless lump of space junk.

The biggest loser here is the Indonesian public who were going to use the satellites aboard the shuttle for TV broadcasts. This was the first – and likely the last – time the country had bought satellites from Russia.

North Korea

North Korea launched a long-range-missile-of-death, otherwise known as a “weather satellite”, into the sky earlier this year only to watch it explode a mere two minutes after takeoff. Those naughty North Koreans love to wind up America, so it probably wasn’t even a rocket, just a giant cheap firework meant to annoy like a gun with a flag that says “bang”. Either way, it worked, because every Western leader got their pants in a bundle. They’re only acting up because it gets them attention. Maybe if the US ignored them they’d be more like Nice Korea.


NASA is feeling pretty good this week after the successful touchdown of the Curiosity Rover on Mars, and to top it all off, they did it using an absurdly handsome nerd with a mohawk.

But their latest test prototype isn’t doing so well. A hardware malfunction caused a NASA moon lander to topple sideways in the air then explode just seconds into flight at Kennedy Space Center on Thursday. It sounds like they never had high hopes for the craft, as the project manager admitted they had an idea it might explode in a ball of fire so they made sure to have a spare. “We anticipated the potential for this type of scenario, and so we had a second vehicle in work,” said Jon Olansen.

The video of the thing is pretty funny. It really looks like they didn’t put much effort in at all — the thing just gives up and blows over sideways. Maybe a little more time spent on the math and a little less on the hair, hey guys?


In 2010, NASA crushed an SUV with a satellite after high winds sent the balloon it was attached to on a trail of destruction in Australia. Despite acres of uninhabited outback surrounding the launch site, the satellite careened out of control and straight towards the only cars for miles around. It smashed through a fence, crushed an SUV and then narrowly avoided an old couple sat in their car. I particularly like the moment in the video when the balloon resembles some sort of majestic, giant used condom on the way down. Enjoy.


Finally we’re on to India, where launches tend to resemble firework displays a little too much. A rocket launched from Sriharikota Space Center carrying the country’s largest communications satellite into orbit self-destructed in a beautiful mid-air explosion. It was the second launch failure for India’s space agency in 2010 after a similar rocket plunged into the Bay of Bengal in April. India are the fifth country to enter the commercial satellite launch market after the United States, Russia, China and France. As we’ve seen, even the well practiced nations can’t get it right, so I’m sure India have plenty more explosions ahead of them. Hopefully they’ll iron out the kinks before their first manned space flight planned for 2016.

Don’t go thinking it’s just rocket scientists who get rockets wrong. Regular people still insist on injuring themselves with simple fireworks. Watch this video as a lesson for your own personal rocket adventures: don’t buy bootleg fireworks.