Last week, at Russia’s spaceport in Kazakhstan, a Proton-M rocket exploded in a massive fireball right after takeoff. The reason? Human stupidity.
Russia’s answer to the Kennedy Space center is the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It’s the world’s first, and largest spaceport, and if you’re a cosmonaut (or astronaut since the space shuttle was retired), this is where you’ll go to ride a rocket into orbit.
Last week, something didn’t go quite as planned. A Russian Proton-M rocket was launched from the Cosmodrome, but seconds after liftoff, the thing veered off course and exploded in a massive fireball. Fortunately, the rocket was unmanned, and no ground personnel were injured, so the only casualties were three satellites the rocket was carrying.
Over the past week, crash investigators have been searching through the wreckage to figure out what went wrong, and they’ve just discovered what they believe to be the source of the failure: human stupidity. Apparently, the rocket’s angular velocity sensors, DUS, were mounted upside down. When the rocket took off, the flight computer thus thought it was going the wrong way and attempted to correct the rocket’s path. This caused the rocket to swing out of control, eventually leading to the explosion.
It was roughly at this point they realized something had gone wrong.
Of course, mounting a component upside down could be an easy mistake to make; after all, a rocket is a complex piece of machinery and “stupidity” doesn’t necessarily have to do with anything. This might have been the case, had the component not had arrows painted on it to indicate which was up. The component was apparently installed by an inexperienced technician who hadn’t had his work double checked by his senior coworkers.
The technician is probably feeling very embarrassed and guilty over the expensive debacle, but lucky for him, there may have been more things going awry with the rocket during launch: A report suggests there had also been an engine fire, so even if the rocket launched properly, it could very well have exploded anyway. This isn’t the first time a Proton-M has exploded either; it happened previously in 2007, and then again in 2010.