Failed Russian Rocket Suspected in Light Show

Norwegians were baffled by what they were seeing: a massive white spiral with a blue tail lighting up the morning sky.

Soon the Russians caught wind of it and a TV station declared, "UFO Show in Norway Welcomes Obama for Nobel Prize Ceremony."

Russia's ongoing missile tests were immediately suspected of causing the surreal sight in the Scandinavian country's northern skies. It was known that Russia was conducting tests from nuclear submarines in the White Sea to the east.

VIDEO: Russias defense ministry says a failed rocket test produced a spiral light show in Norway.
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The mystery was all but solved Thursday afternoon when Russia's Defense Ministry released a statement admitting that a test of a sea-based Bulava rocket failed. They refused to comment on whether the light show and the test were connected.

There's little doubt in military analysts' minds that the limping Bulava caused the pattern in the sky that a Norwegian TV reporter says flooded his station's switchboard with calls from viewers.

"Failed tests, especially failed tests in the northern Arctic have in the past produced different types of atmospheric, wonderful phenomena that people believed were flying saucers," says defense analyst Pavel Felgenghauer.

Missiles spin when they fly for balance, which suggests that if part of the mechanism fails, Felgenghauer adds, it could cause the spiral shapes seen Wednesday morning.

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"Control data show that the third stage's engine worked unsteadily," the Defense Ministry affirmed in a statement.

The failed test is the latest in a string of problems for the Bulava program which reportedly consumes almost half of the Russian defense purchasing budget. It was the twelfth launch, the defense ministry has not said how many, if any, have been successful. The unofficial number is five.

It depends on your definition of success.

"The damn thing is not flying," says Felgenghauer who believes it has really only succeeded once. "This could be a problem with the Bulava or the Russian defense industry [as a whole] that has reached a stage that it can't make such complex machines work properly."

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Worth the Embarrassment?

"We have simply lost the capability to make things fly," he adds, blaming Russia's lack of advanced weaponry on the loss of a highly-trained workforce.

Indeed, the program's detractors harken back to days of the feared Soviet military industry. These days, Russia is trying to get the United States to agree to smaller nuclear arsenals - not necessarily for a safer world, experts say, but because they simply can't maintain their current stockpiles.

On Thursday, the military highlighted the silver lining of Wednesday's failed test, reporting that the technical malfunction happened in the third stage of the launch, as opposed to in the first stage which was the source of trouble in previous tests.

The (theoretically) missile defense-piercing Bulava has a range of 5,000 miles and can carry multiple nuclear warheads. The military's leadership hopes that the missile will become a core player in Russia's nuclear arsenal, but Wednesday's failure will assuredly fuel further debate over whether the Bulava's hefty price tag is worth the embarrassment.

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