The Nedelin Disaster

A total of 92 people (74 military personnel and 18 civilians) died as a result of the Nedelin Catastrophe at the Baikonur Test Range in Kazakhstan on the 24th of October, 1960. The incident was named after Chief Marshal of Artillery Mitrofan Ivonovich Nedelin, one of the project’s overseers and a casualty in the event. A prototype of the Soviet ICBM R-16 was being prepared for a test-flight when the second-stage ignition was accidentally initiated while directly above the first-stage section that was filled with “Devil’s Venom” rocket-fuel. Numerous safety procedures had been ignored due to Nedelin’s insistence on the test being carried out successfully before the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November the 7th. A short-circuit in the main sequencer ultimately caused the premature ignition. A massive explosion erupted as the fuel combusted, with people close to the launch-pad being instantaneously incinerated. People farther away burned to death or died due to exposure to the resulting toxic fumes the fuel produced in massive quantities after combusting. Mikhail Yangel, a missile-designer and the commanding officer for the test range that day, survived the event only because he had left to smoke a cigarette behind a bunker a few hundred yards away. The entirety of the disaster was captured on a series of automated cameras, and the footage has since been made available on the Internet. Information on the Nedelin Catastrophe was not made available to the public until 1989, before which the Soviet government had maintained a strict cover-up of the event as had been done with nearly all other Soviet military disasters.

Submission by Logan Agle. Thank you.