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50th Anniversary Of Russian Space Launch Disaster

October 25, 2010

Russia marked the 50th anniversary of the worst space catastrophe in history on Sunday, remembering the day when 126 people were burned alive when a prototype rocket exploded on the launch pad before a scheduled launch.

According the the AFP news agency, the accident happened October 24, 1960 at the Baikonur cosmodrome, located in the desert steppes of Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union was locked in a heated space race with the United States and had been developing an intercontinental ballistic missile known as the R-16. The prototype exploded during pre-launch.

“People died in horrific pain, essentially burning alive, but the country and the rest of the world practically never learnt anything about that terrible catastrophe and its heroes-victims,” Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

“To this day it is considered the most horrific (tragedy) in the history of space exploration,” the agency said ahead of Sunday’s anniversary.

The catastrophe is usually referred to as the Nedelin disaster in the West, after Mitrofan Nedelin, a commander for the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, who oversaw the program and died along with designers and testers.

Soviet leaders classified the accident as top secret and files on the launch failure were not declassified and available until the 1990s.

A similar accident occurred three years later on the same day, killing another seven testers.

Since then, October 24 has become known as “a black day” for space exploration on which Russian officials commemorate the memory of all who died in the accidents and to all those who dedicated their lives to the space program.

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