Click to viewThis Russian Proton rocket, looking like something out of a 60s sci-fi novel, launched yesterday from Baikonur Cosmodrome carrying one of the largest satellites ever built. Arguably the best heavy boost rocket in the world, the Proton is a Cold War relic that's still a workhorse (despite some recent failures) more than forty years after the first one was launched. How did this rocket, one of the deadliest weapons ever created, end up helping North Americans watch European football matches via satellite?The first Proton was launched in 1965. It was originally designed as one huge freaking Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, with a massive range and terrifying nuclear payload. Since the East coast of the U.S. is not currently a smoking radioactive crater, you can be sure it was never actually used this way. Instead, it was put to work hauling satellites into orbit, as well as chunks of the Mir space station. Despite some recent mission failures, Protons are still regularly contracted out by international companies who need to get something heavy into space. In this case, British company Inmarsat hired a Proton to put their 6-ton Inmarsat-4 (I4-F3) telecommunications satellite into orbit. By the time you read this, we'll know if it was deployed successfully. This photo by Flickr user alexpgp shows a Proton being lifted into launch position at Baikonur.

If you head over to his Baikonur Campaigns page, you can see a huge gallery of cool insider photos taken inside Baikonur as engineers prepare for various launch missions (apparently alexpgp is an engineer with one of the companies that hires Proton rockets). Top image by: BBC News. Proton rocket in return to flight. [BBC News]