Video of NASA rocket failure

By Phil Plait | August 23, 2008 5:09 pm

Via Universe Today comes word that a video of a NASA rocket launch that went very, very awry is now on YouTube:

Yikes. Go to UT to get the details!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Space, Video Blog

Comments (60)

  1. slang

    A minor, or maybe even major, tragedy for the people involved in that mission, and I hate to see any mission fail, but damn, those are pretty pictures!

  2. TomR

    Why, was breaking in half and falling flaming into the ocean not part of the plan?

    What a second, breaking in half and falling flaming into the ocean WAS part of the plan: “NASA launch officials were forced to hit the “destruct” button on an experimental rocket… the naked eye the flight didn’t appear to be in trouble, he said, but it was moving off course.”

  3. Robert Krendik

    Ouch, oh well, look at how many times edison had to invent the light blub.

  4. potterbro

    @ Robert Krendik

    Heh, well in all fairness those light bulbs didn’t cost millions of dollars in materials and man-hours :0p … but yeah, there is always going to be the stray malfunction in this game.

  5. That was like Fourth of July.

  6. I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of failures like this over the next decade. There’s a reason it’s called “Rocket Science.” Rockets are beautiful and dramatic and all, but I sure wish there was a better way to get stuff into orbit. What a waste.

  7. Grand Lunar

    I’ve seen similar footage on the DVD of “Nukes in Space”.

    @SnakeHandler;

    Such an idea does exist; it’s the space elevator.
    It seems to hold promise. I hope too this gets built.

  8. Well, that was a $17 million light show!

    This is only a few weeks after a private firm’s rocket failed. I guess putting things into space is really, really, tricky, no matter who you are.

  9. If I may side with Science Pundit: That was like Fourth of July.

    Oooooo….

    Aaaahhh…

    Whoa….

  10. I sure wish there was a better way to get stuff into orbit.

    Why is the only thought that enters my head when I read this, “Massive Catapult”?

    Technically, it just needs to apply the same amount of force, why risk the strapping explosive propellant to their butts? We chemists don’t needs jobs that bad. [/half-joking]

  11. Moose

    Man. Speaking as someone who’s very, very glad he doesn’t own the ex-payload: that was really cool.

  12. I sure wish there was a better way to get stuff into orbit.

    THAT is where we should be puring our money. It’s like trying to run a fire hose through a soda straw.

  13. cthulhu

    @The Chemist:

    Putting stuff in orbit with a catapult would be very, very inefficient due to the (a) very high acceleration needed which necessitates very heavy structure to withstand that acceleration, (b) very high aerodynamic drag forces which rob the projectile of energy which reduces the efficiency further, etc. You get the idea.

    If you’re interested in alternate launch technologies, look up “space elevator” (mentioned above) or, for one that is less commonly brought, google “Lofstrom loop”.

  14. “Ouch, oh well, look at how many times edison had to invent the light blub.”

    Um, James Woodward invented the light bulb. Edison bought the patents.

  15. Colin J

    Wow. That sucked for them, but was cool for us to see.

  16. This was a launch of an experimental rocket from NASA’s Wallops Island Facility in Virginia. It was carrying 3 experimental satellites and was destroyed after climbing to 11,000 feet.

  17. Mena

    Well, the loss of payload was expensive and bad but I’m just very glad that no one was hurt.

  18. gopherbroke

    My sister worked on some equipment that was on that rocket ;-(

  19. Torbjn Larsson, OM

    Putting stuff in orbit with a catapult would be very, very inefficient due to the (a) very high acceleration needed which necessitates very heavy structure to withstand that acceleration,

    AFAIU maglev catapults are designed to climb suitable mountains, which supports heavy structures.

  20. WJM

    OK, who else counted “Mississipis” between the visual and auditory cues?

  21. madge

    What a real shame. When you think of all the work and expertise that went with that. That said it did look mighty pretty. Damn those Acme Trading Company rockets. Meep Meep :)

  22. Bigfoot

    Too bad about the loss of effort and materials — hopefully they’ll figure the problem out and have a second more successful go.

    This shook something loose in my brain from a few decades ago; and I’m going to have to acquire some Estes materials and do some rocket launching of my own in the coming days!

  23. Thomas Siefert

    @ Torbjn Larsson:
    To archive low earth orbit you need to be travelling at 28,800 km/h, a rocket accelerates all the way to orbit to achieve this.
    If you where to build a maglev catapult up the side of Mount Everest, you would have to do all your acceleration before you leave the mountain. Your speed would have to be 28,000 km/h plus a bit extra (a lot extra) to counter the drag of the atmosphere would have on your craft from the mountain top up to orbit. Also your payload would have to be able to withstand the heavy acceleration as would your craft, not to mention the air resistance.
    A maglev catapult does not seem practical to me unless you just wish to launch raw materials.

    Of course, besides all the practical problems, the Chinese would probably be happy to give you the necessary permissions and mountaineers have left so much garbage that there should be material enough to build a catapult. ;-)

  24. Whoa NASA! Are you trying to help the current [exiting] administration get rid of eight years of documents and recordings the easy way? This is probably easier than starting more fires in the west wing, right?

    http://www.bccmeteorites.com/misconduct-planetary.html

    SRD-BCCM

  25. Daniel

    …sigh… more of your tax dollars at work.

  26. Bobby Thomas

    Daniel:

    More of my tax dollars trying to build a better tomorrow.

    We didn’t get to the moon in a day. ;)

  27. Daniel

    Bobby
    Then lets bill ATK for the total loss so that more of my tax dollars can go to something more reliable and time tested, like the Space Shuttle.

  28. Bobby Thomas

    Oil is reliable and time-tested.

    Let’s stay with that, too.

    Screw anything more advanced, more efficient, more safe.

  29. Andy Payne

    Hey Phil,

    Why do you think the light emitted from the rocket was flashing as it descended to earth? I’m thinking it was spinning almost like a pulsar and that’s what was giving it it’s flash.

  30. gopher65

    Uh, yeah. Edison wasn’t an inventor so much as he was a genius marketer. He took other people’s ideas (by purchase or by theft, depending on which was easier) and he sold them to corporations and the public. From a certain point of view you can say that Edison was important, but if he hadn’t done that marketing, then other people would have. So really, he was nothing special in the grand scheme of things. How did he get this false reputation as a major inventor, anyway? Edison was inventive in the same way that Microsoft is creative.

  31. As it fell it seemed to pulse- why?

  32. Dave Hall

    Daniel Says:
    …sigh… more of your tax dollars at work.

    Yeah, and those tax dollars equals about what our guvmint throws away every hour in Iraq.
    Now I’m not dissing the reasons for being there, nor our troops, in saying that. I am referring to the money lost to mismanagement of funds, overcharges by contractors and the use of exhorbitantly paid mercenaries to do the work our military used to do. The war needs better accountants.

    Just saying there is money lost and then there is money wasted. Given my druthers, I’d sooner see my tax money lost in a failed test launch than making some no-bid, cost-plus contractor richer.

  33. Dave Hall

    Oh and about the launch/crash video:

    Gravity is a harsh mistress.

  34. IVAN3MAN

    BudgetAstronomer:

    Um, James Woodward invented the light bulb. Edison bought the patents.

    True about Edison buying the patents, but according to Wikipedia it was Sir Humphry Davy who invented the first incandeacent light bulb in 1802.

  35. IVAN3MAN

    ERRATUM: Sorry, I misread the article. Sir Humphry Davy “created” the first incandescent light, not light bulb.(I also misspelt incandescent. Bugger!)

    In 1840, British scientist Warren de la Rue enclosed a platinum coil in a vacuum tube and passed an electric current through it.

    It was in 1841 that Frederick de Moleyns of England was granted the first patent for an incandescent lamp.

    In 1845, American John W. Starr acquired a patent for his incandescent light bulb.

  36. Gary Ansorge

    Dave: Gravity is a myth. Earth sucks,,,

    Torbj: Launch Point Technologies has a research project going to launch small payloads(10 Kg), accelerated via catapult. The accelerations are high, on the order of 10,000 Gs, but the payloads are inert(non-biological). They think they can deliver such payloads to orbit for under $200.00/Kg. (dependent on launch numbers/year). They accelerate the payload in an evacuated tube. It’s a step in the right direction. NASA is also investigating the use of a short catapult to accelerate a larger launch vehicle to 1000 Km/hr, before ignition. That eliminates the initial buildup of velocity that requires so much fuel just to get off the launch pad. Another small but potentially vital step.

    Gary 7

  37. Dave Hall

    I can go with the catapult idea, but where do we find a big enough rubber band?

  38. Crux Australis

    Dale; I wondered why it pulsated too. Anyone have an answer? And I couldn’t be bothered counting Mississippis; what was the total? I wonder how far it was.

  39. yeliabmit

    Those DIRECT 2.0 Jupiter launchers continue to look good — although I suppose they could blow up as well.

  40. Amazing. Phil posts a video of a failed rocket launch, and it turns into an anti-Bush, anti-oil, anti-Iraq, anti-business (Edison) gripefest. All in less than 40 posts!

    - Jack

  41. Dale Basler Asked: “As it fell it seemed to pulse- why?”

    Obviously the self-destruct charges and the detonation of the remaining fuel caused it to collapse into a visibly pulsating neutron star…

    Seriously, after an abortive destruct, the parts spin all over the place, and whatever is burning is periodically eclipsed by non-burning parts. For a good daylight example, watch the Atlas abort used at the end of “Koyannisquatsi.”

    - Jack

  42. Re: Catapult,

    Inefficient- yes. Cheaper- maybe.

  43. eyud W

    Nice. The kind of humiliation only NASA can do. Lets at least get the Hubble fixed again OK fellas.

  44. “Then lets bill ATK for the total loss so that more of my tax dollars can go to something more reliable and time tested, like the Space Shuttle.”

    Doesn’t ATK build the SRB’s?

  45. IVAN3MAN

    Lab Lemming:

    Doesn’t ATK build the SRB’s?

    Affirmative, ATK Thiokol.

  46. Daniel

    @Lab
    All I know is that the Shuttle is proven and time tested. Cheap really isnt something that NASA can afford (God help the Orion project).

  47. Sir Struggle

    That’s the problem with being NASA. Everything has to be a towering achievement or else its “a waste of tax dollars.” Since the moon missions, everything they’ve done has been criticized because it’s hard to top landing on the moon. Even though I personally think they do a fine job when it comes to public relations, they need to try to make themselves more accessible (i.e. likeable) to the public. Their image needs to change.

    I wonder if people see a wrecked school bus and think “What a waste of tax-payer money.” Of course they wouldn’t. I would hope they would be more worried about what was ON the bus and the people involved.

  48. Sir Struggle

    @Daniel

    The only problem with the shuttle is that we’re down 2, and they’re almost 30 years old. They’ve been tweaked as much as they can be and are rightfully being retired. I suppose they make a great platform for satellite and space station repairs, and they ferry people and things nicely as well. But exploring further than low earth orbit is hard if all you have is a tow truck/van. I always thought the shuttles were great ideas, but only if they are used in addition to other launch platforms and developments as well. Sadly NASA hasn’t done this (though they promised to when the shuttles were in development) and have relied almost solely on shuttles for decades. The shuttle program cost way more than NASA bargained for so they had to use them a LOT more than they intended.

  49. Daniel

    All Im asking is for them to do it right and quit horse playing. Putting 17(?) million in payload on an unproven rocket system is asking for trouble. We didnt put Alan Shepard on the first Mercury rocket(i know…apples and oranges…but still ;) ). I agree on NASAs PR…horrible at best.

  50. Sir Struggle

    Keep in mind though that this is just one rocket. It’s the nature of rockets that make the “it’s not rocket science” phrase still viable today. Even the best agencies/companies government or private can’t promise you that your payload will wind up in space. Go youtube fishing one day and look up failed rocket launches. I promise you that you’ll be watching videos until you fall asleep from exhaustion. Everyone loses rockets on occasion, you’re spraying liquid oxygen over a fire and holding on for the ride for God’s sake. It’s brutal, unpredictable, inefficient, and dangerous as hell even under the best conditions, but right now it’s the only way we have to do it. I see your point and agree that the shuttle has proven itself, but we can’t possibly launch every sattelite from the shuttle. $17 million payloads go up on platforms like you saw in the video. $150 million payloads go up in the shuttle.

  51. Daniel

    @Sir
    Yea i dont expect NASA to put a 17 million payload on the shuttle. I want them to improve and work on their new system first(Launch it at least 5-6 times without fail). THEN put a payload on it, and let “rocket science” do the rest ;)

  52. Dave Hall

    Daniel Says:
    All Im asking is for them to do it right and quit horse playing. Putting 17(?) million in payload on an unproven rocket system is asking for trouble. We didnt put Alan Shepard on the first Mercury rocket(i know…apples and oranges…but still).

    Technically there was no “Mercury rocket.” The Mercury spacecraft used for manned flights were set atop either Redstone Ballistic vehicles or Atlas ICBM vehicles.

    Here is something to chew on with those apples and oranges:

    The Redstones flew from 1953 to 1967. 100 launches–47 failures. Shepard and Grissom each rode one of the successful ones.

    The Atlas fared somewhat better From 1948 to 2004, there were 585 Launches and only 120 failures. Glenn, Carpenter, Schirra and Cooper flew Mercury/Atlas. Almost all of our pre-shuttle era satellites made it into orbit thanks to Atlas.
    Now, if we and the Soviets had ever started pushing the red buttons, there would have been a lot more Atlas launches, as they were the mainstay of the American nuclear missile program.

  53. Dave Hall

    Jack Hagerty Says:
    “Amazing. Phil posts a video of a failed rocket launch, and it turns into an anti-Bush, anti-oil, anti-Iraq, anti-business (Edison) gripefest. All in less than 40 posts!”

    Where? I saw the Edison comments, backed up with names and dates. But hardly a gripefest. I mentioned our country’s need for decent accounting to take care of our tax dollars. Now I happen to believe we were right to take Saddam Husein out–after all the US put him there and provided him with weapons to fight a war with Iran. Who was anti-oil? Did anyone mention Bush? I must have missed those posts. And anti-business? Edison was one of the greatest when it came to getting inventions out to the public. He was the Bill Gates of his day–okay I’ll grant that one.

    So where was the “anti-Bush, anti-oil, anti-Iraq, anti-business gripefest? Are we being a little hypersensitive?

    Remember: they can only get your goat if your goat is out to get got.

  54. There are a lot of sparkly bits in the exhaust plume early on. I don’t think that’s good. To my eye, it looks very similar to what we saw on the launch of Astro-E on a Japanese M-V back in ought-thousand. In that case it was bits of the graphite nozzle lining coming out. Which then allows the hot gasses to burn through the nozzle and take out the control system, causing the rocket to go off course. I wonder if something like that happened here.

  55. Rob

    TomR Says:
    August 23rd, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Why, was breaking in half and falling flaming into the ocean not part of the plan?

    From the Universe Today link:

    The rocket’s planned flight wouldn’t have taken it into orbit and was set to last about 11 minutes, with the rocket coming down far out in the Atlantic Ocean, said Bryce Hallowell, an ATK spokesman.

    So, it was supposed to stay in one piece and fall flaming into the ocean.

  56. Charles

    “Edison was one of the greatest when it came to getting inventions out to the public. He was the Bill Gates of his day”

    I would say that David Sarnoff was the Bill Gates of his day, considering he created the RCA radio monopoly and nearly did the same for television but was interrupted by WWII. People to this day think Marconi invented radio, and that Zworykin invented electronic television (surely news to Tesla and to Farnsworth, considering they held the radio and electronic TV patents respectively) and those misconceptions came from Sarnoff and RCA’s marketing arm.

  57. Dave Hall

    Moral: Bill Gates ain’t so special after all:)

  58. Dave Hall

    Its a matter of timing–Edison was most prolific between about 1876 and 1890, although he kept pretty busy until he died in the 1930s.
    Sarnoff was at his peak with RCA and RKO from about 1919 through the late 1960s.
    Guess there is one for every generation or so.

  59. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Thomas Siefert:

    If you where to build a maglev catapult up the side of Mount Everest, you would have to do all your acceleration before you leave the mountain.

    Um, I wasn’t arguing catapults, only commenting (or correcting) a comment. But to make another correction: abandoning The Chemists design criteria (no propellant), we can get around that as well. [Added at submit: this was also proposed in the thread,]

    Btw, if you want to maximize altitude change “to do all your acceleration” alone, shouldn’t you sink a tube alongside the Hawaii island inclination? But I assume some of the design consideration goes into absolute altitude and absolute decreased air resistance, in which case your characterization of the system and its results is incomplete.

    @ Gary Ansorge:

    Thanks, that is interesting. Maybe I should argue catapults, if they are so feasible.

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