The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an Executive Branch agency of the United States government, responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and aeronautics and aerospace research.
Today we take a look at the dimmer moments in its history: the canceled projects, the failures and some notable mishaps
No 10. ‘Kaputnik’
On Dec. 6, 1957, two months after the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite into orbit, the U.S. tried to launch its own. The space race was on, and everyone was watching. Unfortunately for democracy, whereas the U.S.S.R. had Sputnik, the U.S. had “Kaputnik” (a.k.a. “Flopnik” or “Dudnik”). The rocket carrying the Vanguard TV3 satellite only made it about four feet off its Cape Canaveral pad before losing thrust and exploding in humiliating fashion. The press had a lot to say about the dismal failure. As the New York Herald Tribune summed up, “The people in Washington should damn well keep quiet until they have a grapefruit or at least something orbiting around up there.” The following year, the U.S. finally launched its first satellite — and created NASA.
No 9. The Ranger Missions
Trial and error was the name of the game for these unmanned 1960s space missions, intended to provide NASA with the first close-up images of the moon’s surface. Early on it was mostly errors. Each spacecraft was stocked with six cameras designed to transmit photos until the Ranger collided with the lunar surface. Things didn’t exactly go as planned. Ranger 1 — sent up in August 1961 — failed to launch. So did Ranger 2 three months later. The third try, launched in January 1962, managed to get into space — only to miss the moon entirely. Attempt No. 4 in April the same year launched flawlessly, but the ship itself proved faulty. Ranger 5 launched fine in October but, like its earlier cousin, missed the moon. Ranger 6 came closer than any of its predecessors: the ship impacted the moon as it was meant to, but an accident during flight messed up the cameras and it couldn’t snap any shots. Finally, Ranger 7, launched in July 1964, managed to hit the moon, sending more than 4,300 pictures to scientists who must have been relieved. Seventh time’s a charm.