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9 Rocket Scientist Fails That Will Make You Feel Like A Winner

They might be rocket scientists, but they had some pretty epic fails.

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1. Once, a prestigious German rocket club accidentally blew up a police station.

Sony Pictures / Via youtube.com

In 1931, a film crew arrived to shoot some footage of a German rocket club for a newsreel. Excited to show off their skills, they quickly set up a launch. The small rocket flew off the launch pad and reached its peak altitude, but then the parachute ripped off. The rocket, still flaming from the remaining gasoline in the fuel tank, landed on a shack that belonged to the local police, who arrived on the scene. The party was over.

2. While preparing rockets for a movie premiere, a rocket scientist practically blew his face off instead.

Oscars / Via youtube.com

In 1929, Austrian rocket scientist Hermann Oberth (a man with shit named after him) was the technical advisor for a German film called Frau im Mond. He saw this as an opportunity to get some of that sweet movie money into his research program and also get some notoriety at the big movie premiere. Before the premiere, he was experimenting with the perfect liquid fuel mixture to be used and practically blew his face off. The studio covered his ass and said that "weather" prevented the launch. At least he didn't trip in front of everyone?

3. Rocketman Max Valier once gathered a big crowd to watch his rocket-propelled car move at lightning fast speed. It ended up moving an awe-inspiring 500 feet.

Aziz Maachi / Via youtube.com

In 1928, Max Valier was pretty stoked to show off his first rocket-propelled car — the Rak 1 — in front of a crowd just hurting for some action. The car, loaded with a cluster of black powder rockets and placed on a track, hit a top speed of just five miles per hour.

4. That same dude also tried strapping some rockets to a sail plane. That experiment's greatest moment was the pilot landing the plane before it was fully engulfed in flames. Again, he is a pioneer.

Fox / Via hulu.com

That same year, Valier sought to pioneer rocket-powered flight by strapping solid rockets to a lightweight glider plane. Once the plane was airborne, the pilot lit the rockets one at a time. A loud boom and fiery explosion signaled to the pilot that shit was about to go down. He managed to land the plane before the second rocket started to burn. You will not find this plane in any museum.

5. The German army once tried to impress Nazi brass by launching a big-ass rocket. The rocket caught fire and crashed into the Baltic Sea for everyone gathered to watch.

Fox / Via gfycat.com

In 1937, the German army's rocket team tried to launch their first A-3 rocket, a precursor to their later more famous and successful rockets. On hand that day was a literal boatload of dignitaries eager to see the what progress the army was making. After lifting cleanly from the launch pad the mighty rocket turned into the wind and tumbled. When the parachute deployed, it quickly caught on fire and the whole thing crashed unceremoniously into the Baltic. Nobody was impressed.

6. Wernher von Braun, the OG rocket scientist, nearly killed himself during Germany's first ever rocket test. He later helped the United States get to the Moon.

Nickelodeon / Via youtube.com

Two months after he was hired by the German army, von Braun, two technicians, and the head of the army's rocket program started messing around with flammable chemicals in a combustion chamber enclosed by three concrete walls. As the director of the rocket program hid behind a tree, von Braun, the youngest, took a can of flaming gasoline on the end of a twelve-foot pole to ignite the fuel. It was supposed to get the engine burning, but instead it blew up the test stand, ripping the doors off their hinges and sending hot, twisted metal flying everywhere. Von Braun is better known for his later work, like the Saturn V that took Apollo to the Moon.

7. The first time the United States launched a recovered Nazi rocket, it nearly destroyed the Mexican town of Juarez. The U.S. is generally more celebratory about its later launches.

America's Funniest Home Videos / Via youtube.com

When von Braun, a Nazi, surrendered himself to the United States, he lead US scientists to a stash of V2 rockets. The U.S. imported the rockets and retooled the pieces at a New Mexico launch site in an effort to harness the technology. In 1947, the army's third launch on a V2 nearly caused an international incident. A flaw in the guidance system had the rocket turn south, fly over El Paso, Texas, cross the border, and crash into a rocky knoll about three and a half miles from downtown Juarez, Mexico. It shook buildings, broke windows, and stopped the clock in the sheriff's office, but no one was hurt. The technology is better understood these days.

8. Spaceflight pioneer John Paul Stapp wanted to know what rockets did to the human body so he strapped himself into some rocket sleds. TL;DR: they break you.

Marwan Malak / Via youtube.com

Stapp was specifically interested in deceleration tests that would mimic what an astronaut would experience at the end of launch when he suddenly became weightless. He built a series of sleds with rockets attached to the back and sent himself flying across the desert on a track designed to stop him suddenly at the end. On one run he reached a top speed of 632 miles per hour and pulled 46gs when the sled stopped, cracking ribs, bursting blood vessels in his eyes, and damaging his respiratory and circulatory system. He recovered fully and is now often referred to "the fastest man on Earth."

9. In front of a massive TV audience, the United States' first attempt at a satellite launch rose a few feet before returning to Earth and blowing up.

NBC / Via hulu.com

This satellite, Vanguard, was meant to be the all-American response to the USSR's Sputnik satellite. At the end of 1957, with the nation watching, it rose a few feet in about two seconds of powered flight before it started falling back down. The rocket hit the launch structure and fell, breaking apart the fuel and oxidizer tanks so the whole thing caught fire. The tiny 3-pound satellite was shot clear of the fire and started broadcasting its signal thinking it was in orbit. Adorable, really.

Amy Shira Teitel is the author of Breaking the Chains of Gravity, a new book about the history of spaceflight before NASA.

Amy is a professional space history nerd.

Contact Amy Shira Teitel at amyteitel@gmail.com.

Science Writer, Fossil Beastmaster

Contact Alex Kasprak at alex.kasprak@buzzfeed.com.

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