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Cosmos 96



This mission was intended as a Venus lander, presumably similar in design to the Venera 3 which had launched a week earlier. The spacecraft attained Earth orbit and the main rocket body (65-094B) separated from the orbiting launch platform. It is believed an explosion (perhaps during ignition for insertion of the spacecraft into a Venus transfer orbit) damaged the platform, resulting in at least six additional fragments (designated 65-094C - H). The damaged spacecraft remained in orbit for 16 days and reentered the Earth's atmosphere on 9 December 1965.

The Great Lakes Fireball and Kecksburg Incident

There is some speculation that the reentry of the Cosmos 96/Venera-type spacecraft was responsible for a fireball which was seen over southwestern Ontario, Canada and at least eight states from Michigan to New York at 4:43 p.m. EST (21:43 UT) on 9 December 1965. Investigations of photographs and sightings of the fireball indicated its path through the atmosphere was probably too steep to be consistent with a spacecraft re-entering from Earth orbit and was more likely a meteor in a prograde orbit from the vicinity of the asteroid belt, and probably ended its flight over western Lake Erie. U.S. Air Force tracking data on Cosmos 96 also indicate the spacecraft orbit decayed earlier than 21:43 UT on 9 December. Other unconfirmed reports state the fireball subsequently landed in Pennsylvania southeast of Pittsburgh near the town of Kecksburg (40.2 N, 79.5 W) at 4:46 p.m. EST (although it should be noted that estimating the impact point of fireballs from eyewitness accounts is notoriously inaccurate). Uncertainties in the orbital information and reentry coordinates and time make it difficult to determine definitively if the fireball could have been the Cosmos 96 spacecraft.

Cosmos Nomenclature

After failing to leave Earth orbit, this spacecraft was designated Cosmos 96. Beginning in 1962, the name Cosmos was given to Soviet spacecraft which remained in Earth orbit, regardless of whether that was their intended final destination. The designation of this mission as an intended planetary probe is based on evidence from Soviet and non-Soviet sources and historical documents. Typically Soviet planetary missions were initially put into an Earth parking orbit as a launch platform with a rocket engine and attached probe. The probes were then launched toward their targets with an engine burn with a duration of roughly 4 minutes. If the engine misfired or the burn was not completed, the probes would be left in Earth orbit and given a Cosmos designation.

Alternate Names

  • 01742

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1965-11-23
Launch Vehicle: Molniya-M
Launch Site: Tyuratam (Baikonur Cosmodrome), U.S.S.R
Mass: 6510.0 kg

Funding Agency

  • Unknown (U.S.S.R)


  • Engineering
  • Planetary Science

Additional Information

Questions or comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams.


Selected References

Shelton, W., Soviet space exploration - the first decade, Arthur Barker Ltd., Unnumbered, London, England, 1969.

Harvey, B., The new Russian space programme from competition to collaboration, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England, 1996.

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