With rockets, so many things can and do go wrong

Apr 13, 2012 SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer
In this April 8, 2012 file photo, a North Korean soldier stands in front of the country's Unha-3 rocket at a launching site in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. It really is rocket science and it really is hard. North Korea proved that again. The giant explosion that gets a rocket off the ground isn't that complicated. Controlling that reaction and going where you want, when you want - that's where engineers earn their money and ulcers. And it's where past rockets and spaceships have ended in spectacular and sometimes deadly failures. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder, File)

(AP) -- It really is rocket science and it really is hard. North Korea proved that again.

The giant explosion that gets a off the ground isn't that complicated. The superhot, superfast exhaust from that giant fire is funneled in a way that shoots the rocket upward. North Korea's Unha-3 rocket combines two liquid propellants - and nitric acid - that ignite when mixed, space experts say.

That's the easy part.

Controlling that reaction and going where you want, when you want - that's where engineers earn their money and ulcers. And it's where past rockets and spaceships have ended in spectacular and sometimes deadly failures.

"Anybody can make something go boom. Controlling it is hard," said former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace, director of at George Washington University.

All that power has to be confined by metal and controlled by electronics. It takes the power of about a ton of TNT just to get 60 pounds into orbit at almost 18,000 mph. One tiny mistake, one mismatch in devices, one miscommunication, one bubble, and boom.

In 1986, the fiery power of the space shuttle Challenger burned through an O-ring seal and seven astronauts died.

Other control problems have doomed spaceships. Aerodynamics - keeping the pointy end straight up - is key. If a rocket veers too much it just breaks apart, said Jonathan McDowell of Harvard University.

New countries launching rockets generally fail half the time, he said. John Glenn recalled how NASA's first astronauts watched in horror as an Atlas rocket blew up in front of them. More recently, private U.S. company SpaceX failed on its first three Falcon 1 launch attempts before finally succeeding twice. Even the normally reliable Russians couldn't get a rocket to Mars last fall because of a post-launch failure that ended up with the spaceship on board falling back to Earth.

What doomed the North Korea rocket minutes after launch Friday isn't yet known.

Failure often comes from not putting things together right. Tens of thousands of parts have to match perfectly and talk to each other.

NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey probe took 10,000 separate actions to go right to get there, said Scott Hubbard of Stanford University. Two years earlier, NASA mistakenly used both metric and English measuring units, dooming a $125 million Martian probe.

Former NASA deputy administrator Hans Mark said most failures are from human error. He pointed to a dropped oxygen tank that caused the near-fatal Apollo 13 explosion.

Poor communication between engineers and managers about known problems was a factor in both the 1986 and 2003 space shuttle disasters and that's a bigger issue for totalitarian societies like North Korea, Pace said.

"In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is `Star Trek'," Pace said. "Captain Picard says `engage' and the ship moves. And people think `How hard can this be?'"

North Korea knows.

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Newbeak
3.5 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2012
This is pure speculation,but it occurred to me that the Boeing YAL-1 Airborne Laser Testbed,which was mothballed after the program was cancelled last December,might have been secretly resurrected for a special job: shooting down North Korea's latest missile test.It would have had time to fly from the States,and orbit a couple of hundred miles from the launch site.It would be a win-win situation all round.The Air Force might get their ABL program restarted,and the North Korean missile program would suffer another long term setback,with no one the wiser as to why the test launch failed.
baudrunner
not rated yet Apr 13, 2012
Rocket science is apparently lucrative, because this article appears to be trying to scare everybody away from it. It's not that hard. But nitric acid and hydrazine..? They are an upstart nation, new in the game, and they should be using good old kerosene to send their rockets up. Keeping one upright and straight is easily acomplished mechanically with a pendulum and a few electronic pressure sensors and some clever ducting of air flow using external flaps wired to the sensors. The problem is that everybody has that perception that rocket science is for geniuses, and they pour so much money into it that it actually screws everything up. The best rockets are the cheapest kind. They are, after all, disposable. Oh, well. Live and learn. Bunch of dummies.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2012
They are, after all, disposable.

But not the payload.
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 13, 2012
Ok come on, we all know the US now has stealth interceptor missiles.
Newbeak
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2012
Ok come on, we all know the US now has stealth interceptor missiles.

Yes,but a laser works by heating up the fuel tank,weakening it's structure,and aerodynamic pressure does the rest-no traces left,and it looks like a plain old launch failure.
kaasinees
4 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2012
The USA has a missile defense platform in the Philippines.
WW3 has started, it just hasnt reached the general population yet other than financial.

http://www.geo.tv...ID=42713

http://globalnati...t-launch

ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Apr 13, 2012
Ok come on, we all know the US now has stealth interceptor missiles.

Yes,but a laser works by heating up the fuel tank,weakening it's structure,and aerodynamic pressure does the rest-no traces left,and it looks like a plain old launch failure.

Anyone drive by Davis Monthan AFB lately and notice a 747 in the boneyard?
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 13, 2012
lol! The US government can secret half a dozen 747s any time the need to.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2012
lol! The US government can secret half a dozen 747s any time the need to.

The govt can 'secret half dozen 747s'?
With a huge mirror on its nose?
http://www.mda.mi...ltb.html
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2012
The USA has a missile defense platform in the Philippines.
WW3 has started, it just hasnt reached the general population yet other than financial.

http://www.geo.tv...ID=42713


Where in the Philippines?
What systems?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2012
Ok come on, we all know the US now has stealth interceptor missiles.

Why would anyone need 'stealth' interceptor missiles?
If a missile flie fast enough to hit a rocket, there is no need to hide it. What could stop it?
Deathclock
1 / 5 (2) Apr 13, 2012
Ok come on, we all know the US now has stealth interceptor missiles.

Why would anyone need 'stealth' interceptor missiles?
If a missile flie fast enough to hit a rocket, there is no need to hide it. What could stop it?


An interceptor interceptor...
rwinners
Apr 14, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
scidog
not rated yet Apr 14, 2012
for good back ground on the north i would suggest NK Daily.
when the leadership thinks it's a big deal to stamp out vegetable steamers from a turn key factory i don't think we need to have any worries.
alfie_null
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
Maybe corners were cut. I wonder what proportion of the North Korean economy (GDP or whatever) is consumed by this activity. It's got to be painfully expensive for them to support this sort of activity.
Sanescience
5 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2012
I wonder how much suffering and death will be rained down on people involved in this failure. North Korea is terrible blot on the record of human history. Hell on earth, allowed to persist largely under the shelter of China. Shame.
Deathclock
3 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2012
I watched a documentary about a former American soldier who defected INTO North Korea... NK is certainly not up to American standards but from the story this guy tells it's not that bad either, at least for him, he leads a pretty normal life.

American children (I am American FYI) grow up with a strong ethnocentric perspective. If you told most Americans that there are very large modern cities with skyscrapers and 5 lane highways and everything in Africa or the middle east they wouldn't believe you, because the only exposure we get to these regions in high school show them as backwards dirty uncivilized people.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
it's not that bad either,

"Im, a former member of the DPRK military elite, will speak concerning the state-commissioned practice of chemical and biological weapon experimentation on political prisoners in North Korea.
"
http://www.christ...779.html
ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2012
DPRK is the ultimate end of the socialist state.
Is this why so many socialists are reluctant to be critical of DPRK and China, but instead make excuses?
We hear some say, "it's not so bad".

"The DPRK runs a network of concentration camps where an estimated 1 million innocents have been murdered in silence and 250,000 political prisoners, one-third of them children are forced to perform slave labor and are deliberately starved and subject to systematic rape and torture, according to reports from WCSGNK.
"
http://www.christ...779.html
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
I am not a socialist, I am a fierce proponent of capitalism and democracy. Your bias is showing...
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
I am not a socialist, I am a fierce proponent of capitalism and democracy. Your bias is showing...

Then you made a very stupid comment about DPRK not being so bad, or you are not as fierce as you claim.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
Or maybe I'm not so brainwashed... watch the documentary I am talking about, this former american who has lived in NK for most of his life tells you all about it. I am sure they do terrible things to their prisoners and they don't have the freedom we do, that's a given, but they aren't a country full of monsters, they are just people with poor leadership.
rwinners
not rated yet Apr 14, 2012
@Death.... They don't have 'leadership'. They have a military dictatorship which doesn't seem to care a whit for anyone not in the leadership circles.
That is the sad part of the whole story. People live in slum like conditions so their leaders can play with rockets. The rockets, of course, would only protect the leadership's standard of living. Sick.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
I am not a socialist, I am a fierce proponent of capitalism and democracy. Your bias is showing...

Then you made a very stupid comment about DPRK not being so bad, or you are not as fierce as you claim.
Hey ryggy is this you?

"In the past three years, there has been growing concern over activities of so-called "sovereign citizens," who like the Grays and many of their anti-government predecessors "claim to exist beyond the realm of government authority," according to a January FBI bulletin to state and local law enforcement officials warning of the potential for violence.

The sovereign movement, estimated by the Southern Poverty Law Center to number 100,000 ardent followers and about 200,000 sympathizers across the country"
http://www.usatod...obinsite

I just read the Turner Diaries on the web. WOW. Peoples gets messed UP. Reminded me of the old testament, with NUKES.
Terriva
3 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
For what one of the poorest countries on the world suffering with famine does need a satellite?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
just people with poor leadership.

It's called socialism, aided and abetted by Chinese socialists.
rwinners
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
@rvgg... What exists in NK cannot be called socialism, simply because toe needs of the many are ignored and the needs of the few supplied in great quantity.
Again, this is a military dictatorship, plain and simple. The Kim regime is simply a front for it.
If you want a good example of modern socialism, look at (West) Germany.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.8 / 5 (40) Apr 14, 2012
Status. Bragging rights. Military/Economic brinkmanship.

"For what one of the poorest countries on the world suffering with famine does need a satellite?" - Terriva
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
What exists in NK cannot be called socialism

Yes, it can.
The state owns all property.
A tyranny of a majority or a tyranny of a few is still tyranny.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.8 / 5 (41) Apr 14, 2012
Sorry Tard Boy. It is a military dictatorship. You know. Like the ones the U.S.of A set up in South America to combat real socialism.

"It's called socialism" - RyggTard

"aided and abetted by Chinese socialists." - RyggTard

Does that aid include food or military assistance?

It is good though that North Korea has some nuclear power plants. Finally they might have enough power to provide their people with an adequate standard of living that has been denied them by the west through trade embargo's.

Vendicar_Decarian
0.8 / 5 (41) Apr 14, 2012
How sad for you that that one characteristic does not define socialism.

"The state owns all property." - RyggTard

Poor RyggTard. The always foncused Libertarian.
rwinners
5 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2012
@rvgg I think you are confusing socialism with communism. Now, NK might qualify as a communist state, which is another word for dictatorship.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Apr 14, 2012
@rvgg I think you are confusing socialism with communism. Now, NK might qualify as a communist state, which is another word for dictatorship.

I think you are confusing socialism and communism.
Socialism/communism/fascism are all share the same 'feature', the government owns the property. The only difference is how the leaders of the state are decided.
Contrast this with a state that emerges from the axiom that every individual has an inherent, unalienable right to life, liberty and property. This state is organized to protect the rights of the individual from state power.
rwinners
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2012
And so, by your definition, Germany, France and many other European countries are capitalist, not socialist?
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2012
And so, by your definition, Germany, France and many other European countries are capitalist, not socialist?

Nope, like the USA, they are all somewhere on the socialist scale.
dan42day
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 15, 2012
When are the North Koreans going to catch up to the U.S. and hire Russia to launch their stuff into orbit?
Sanescience
5 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2012
It is good though that North Korea has some nuclear power plants. Finally they might have enough power to provide their people with an adequate standard of living that has been denied them by the west through trade embargo's.


Yikes. I'm not one for superstition but that is some serious dangerous negative karma rhetoric. I understand the enjoyment that trolling can provide, but suggesting the inhuman conditions inflicted by DPRK on it's people can be excused by an embargo (that China effectively undercuts) seems pretty insulting to the masses of dead (or living) souls you might get to meet some day.
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (1) Apr 15, 2012
@ ryggesogn2: Why use a laser instead of an interceptor? Simple: As stated to Japan, any attack on that launch would be considered an act of war. The South is in a very precarious position. Better to have this thing "malfunction" with no radar signature to the contrary. Leave them scratching their heads and muttereing to themselves.
As far as "not so bad there..." I watched a hidden cam when doctors flew in on a humanitarian mission to due as many eye surgeries as possible. The display of abject fear at every turn was absolutely appaulling. These people were in a constant state of terror, at least those shown on the film, anyway.
Ironically, these bums are looking for immortal reverence, when to achieve it, improving the living standards to those commensurate with most of the world is all that is required.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2012
Better to have this thing "malfunction" with no radar signature to the contrary. Leave them scratching their heads and muttereing to themselves.

Why do you assume their technology is successful?
What laser could do the job? Again, anyone in Tucson observe the ABL take off?
Surely the Russians and Chinese spy ships would have noted any aircraft in the area and reported the incident.
The simplest explanation is best. The rocket failed, probably due to schedule, politics and technology.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2012
denied them by the west through trade embargo's.

Why should the west subsidies the murder of millions?
It has been well documented that food aid to African tyrannies has only supported the tyranny, not fed the people.
Recall how the 'oil for food' program enriched many in Russia, UK and France while starving thousands of Iraqis?

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