In July 1969, the Soviets and the USA were in the middle of a space race. Each country was trying to get the first human on the moon. For one country there was a success. And for the other: one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in the history of mankind.
The race for the moon
The USA and Russia were in a heated space race in the 60s. Both superpowers had successfully orbited spacecraft with animals and humans around the Earth, launched satellites, and sent spacecraft to the moon. Now both countries eyed setting an actual human on the moon’s surface.
This was going to take tremendously powerful rockets to achieve. For America, the super heavy Saturn V rocket would be used to launch astronauts and equipment into space. For Russia, it would be the 6 million pound, 5 stage N1 rockets. At almost 350 ft. tall and 56 feet in diameter, they could carry a payload of 200,000 pounds into low earth orbit. And another 58,000 pounds to the moon.
It’s all about the rockets
While both countries suffered failures and tragedy in their race to the moon, the Russian’s failures would ensure they wouldn’t set a man on the moon.
Without a rocket that could safely launch humans and machinery into space, there would be no way to get to the moon. In those regards the Americans had great success with the Saturn V. As a matter of fact, the American Saturn V never failed. And the Russian N1 rockets were never successful. All four attempts to launch these monsters into orbit failed.
The big explosion
The largest and most spectacular fail came on July 3, 1969. During a 2nd attempted launch of an N1, an oxygen tank sucked a bolt in the oxygen pump shutting the motors and causing the rocket to fall from 200 meters.
2300 tons of fuel caused an earth shattering blast and shock wave that sent debris six miles away. A half hour after the accident unburned fuel was still raining down. The crazy thing is that this could have been way worse. 85% of the propellent hadn’t burned, reducing the force of the explosion.
The blast was so large, however, that It took a year and a half just to rebuild the launch pad.
Shortly after the explosion the Americans put the Eagle on the moon. America had won the race to the moon. And by 1974 the Russians gave up trying to get a human to the moon.
Check out the video below on the N1 rocket explosion: