National Affairs: The Death of TV-3

In a spiderweb gantry at the U.S Air Force Missile Test Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. stood Navy Test Vehicle 3, a tall, three-stage rocket, the sun sparkling off a rime of frost crystals (from liquid oxygen fuel) on its silver and jet-black skin. Around TV-3, tired Navy and civilian scientists and technicians worked carefully toward the end of an hours-long count-down—air frame, propulsion, nose cone, guidance—while liquid oxygen vented off in trailing fume. "We'll be pleased if it does go into orbit," said one of the TV3 missilemen. "We will not be...