Science: Failure Aloft

The U.S. failed last week in its second attempt to explode a nuclear test at high altitude over Johnston Island in the Pacific. Official reason for the flop: "a malfunction in the system." Since nuclear devices almost always explode as planned, the malfunction was probably in the Thor rocket on which the bomb was riding. Until other scapegoats are available, critics can blame 1) the haste with which rocket-launching equipment was thrown together on remote Johnston Island; 2) failure to use reliable solid-fuel rockets (Polaris or Minuteman) instead of the obsolescent Thor, which burns notoriously troublesome liquid oxygen.

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