Dear Editor,

Here are some ghosts from the past and their connections to the present. In the year 1960, the old Soviet Union suffered the single worst space race disaster that is known to this date. The history books refer to this event as The Nedelin Catastrophe. It is named after the individual who was in charge of the project. Nedelin was one of the first to die.

On the launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan stood a prototype R-16 two stage Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. This missile exploded. Safety protocols that should have been strictly obeyed, were in general ignored. What were the reasons for these many safety errors? When there is a high pressure situation with global political implications and an established deadline to be met, people have been known to cut corners. On this day, the more humanitarian quest of putting a man on the Moon, ahead of the Americans ranked as a secondary goal. The primary mission of building a missile capable of traveling great distances and striking an enemy, took center stage.

Part of this inferno was successfully recorded on motion picture film. With the missile holding full tanks of propellant and no countdown in progress, the missile’s engines misfired in reverse sequential order. Three thousand-degree temperatures from the second stage engines, instantly melted the fuel tanks of the larger first stage. The erupting fireball and shock wave immediately killed at least 74 people. The secondary flash burns and toxic fumes eventually killed another 50 individuals.

The few surviving personnel were inside blockhouses or behind these structures built to safely direct and observe the operations at the launch pad. One of the survivors outside was where he was largely shielded from the blast for the single purpose of smoking a cigarette. He experienced moderate burns and later suffered a heart attack from the suspected stress of mentally reliving that calamity time after time.

These surviving scientists and technicians later gave a title to the witch’s brew of nitric acid and other related chemicals that contributed to this disaster. They call it The Devil’s Venom. It is still recognized today in certain scientific fields by that designation.

The west was officially informed of this disaster in 1989. Most of the data released is what the Russians eventually volunteered decades after they had conducted their own investigations, The Soviet authorities were surprisingly lenient with the survivors. The official conclusion was that all of the guilty and offending parties had already been punished.

Now, on to the ghosts of the present. The United States has helped thwart the political and military ambitions of North Korea for more than 60 years. North Korea wants South Korea. It is strongly suspected or even proven, that North Korea is using The Devil’s Venom to propel their missiles in the general direction of the United States. One day, these missiles may arrive with nuclear tips.


Danny Yochum