28. That Time We Accidentally Destroyed Britain’s Pride and Joy Space Satellite
On April 26th, 1962, Britain launched the Ariel-1 into space, becoming the third country, after the Soviet Union and the United States, to have its own satellite. Understandably, it became a source of national pride, and a reminder that although Britain might have ceded global leadership to the US and USSR, the country was still a power to be reckoned with. A few weeks later, America nuked Ariel-1.
It came about as a result of Starfish Prime, a high altitude nuclear test conducted by the US on July 9th, 1962. A Thor rocket, carrying a thermonuclear warhead, was launched from Johnston Island in the Pacific, climbed to a height of 250 miles above earth, and produced a 1.4 megaton explosion. The result was an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) far greater than expected. It caused electric damage in Hawaii, nearly a thousand miles away, knocked out hundreds of street lights, set off burglar alarms, and wreaked havoc on the telephone system. It also produced debris and a radiation belt that destroyed or damaged a number of satellites, including Ariel-1.