Monday, October 25, 2010 -
Work at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan was suspended Sunday on the 50th anniversary of a disaster that killed more than 70 people at the site.
The world’s busiest space port suspended all launches and works for the day and instead held a memorial service for the engineers who died in 1960 when a Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile exploded on a launch pad.
Early Sunday morning relatives of the 74 dead held a memorial service at the grave site before going to the Platform 41, the scene of the disaster, to gather in mourning, the RT news agency reported the same day.
On October 24, 1960 the Soviets were preparing to launch the prototype of a new R-16 rocket as part of a space race that was underway with the United States when the tragedy happened.
Soviet authorities immediately imposed a blackout on reports of the blast. It was not lifted until the 1990s when the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan became independent.
"The country and the rest of the world practically never learnt anything about that terrible catastrophe and its heroes-victims," the Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency on Sunday cited Russian space agency Roscosmos as saying.
The declassified documents told how a massive fireball instantly vaporized many of the engineers on the launch pad. The rest were burned alive or asphyxiated by burning rocket fuel that gushed over an area of more than 1,000 square feet, the BBC news agency reported Monday.
Around 50 others survived with injuries.
Exactly three years to the day, eight testers were killed in another fire on a launch pad at the space port.
In memory of those who died in these disasters Baikonur cosmodrome and Russia commemorates October 24 as space exploration’s “black day.”
"To this day it is considered the most horrific (tragedy) in the history of space exploration," AFP quoted the agency as saying.