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The Most Dramatic Space Accidents

January 31, 2008
by joskirps

The first space related accident happened on March 23, 1961. Valentin Bondarenko was in training in a pure oxygen atmosphere chamber when he accidentally dropped an alcohol-soaked cloth onto an electric hotplate. The fire quickly engulfed the entire chamber, Bondarenko died shortly after being hospitalized. His death was kept secret by the Soviet government until 1986.

Shortly after, on July 21, 1961, NASA Astronaut Gus Grissom almost drowned when water entered his Gemini capsule after the landing on the ocean. He managed to escape just before it sank.

On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov was the first man to leave a spacecraft in orbit. After the spacewalk the spacesuit had inflated and Leonov was unable to reenter the airlock. After opening a valve and thus diminishing suit pressure he managed to get back into the capsule with a minimum of air left.

One year later, on March 17, 1966, a thruster on the Gemini 8 capsule refused to shut down and the capsule got into an uncontrolled spin. Astronauts almost were unconscious when they finally managed to regained control.

On January 27, 1967, a fire broke out during a training session in the Apollo 1 capsule which was filled with pure oxygen. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were killed.

The same year, on April 24, the parachute of Soyuz 1 failed after reentry. Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when the capsule hit the ground.

NASA Apollo 13 AccidentOn April 14, 1970, an explosion on board of Apollo 13 severely damaged the spacecraft which was then on the way to the moon. The astronauts had to rely on the Lunar Module power and live support systems, but they were finally able to safely return to Earth.

One year later, on June 30, 1971, the crew of Soyuz 11 was killed after undocking from space station Salyut 1. An accidentally opened valve let their air leak out into space. The capsule reentered and landed normally, and their deaths were only discovered when it was opened by the recovery team.

On April 5, 1975, the second stage of the Soyuz 18a rocket didn't correctly separate during launch and an emergency reentry sequence got triggered which caused enormous accelerations. The capsule landed safely, but then rolled down a hill and stopped just short of a high cliff. The cosmonauts were injured, but they survived.

Just a few months later, on July 24, 1975, toxic gas entered an Apollo capsule just before landing because a switch was left in the wrong position. The crew members suffered from burning sensations, astronaut Vance Brand's heart stopped and later on they developed pneumonia and their lungs had edema. But they survived.

On October 16, 1976, the Soyuz 23 capsule broke through the surface of a frozen lake and was dragged underwater by its parachute. The crew was saved after a very difficult rescue operation.

In 1983, on September 26, the Soyuz T-10-1 rocket caught fire on the launchpad and the crew was saved by their escape system.

On July 29, 1985, a Space Shuttle Challenger flight almost ended in a disaster when one of the main engines shut down during the launch. The second engine was about to shut down too, which was prevented by a flight controller. Challenger would have crashed into the ocean if the second engine had failed too.

NASA Challenger ExplosionOnly half a year after the almost fatal incident - on January 28, 1986 - Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off when a faulty seal allowed hot gases from a solid rocket booster damaged the external tank. The seven crew members survived the explosion (although they were probably unconscious) and were only killed when the capsule hit the ocean [Challenger disaster details here].

On February 23, 1997, there was a fire on board the Mir space station caused by a leaking canister.

On July 23, 1999, an electrical short on board the the Space Shuttle Columbia caused two main engine controllers to shut down during launch, which enabled the backup controllers. A further short would have caused the Space Shuttle to crash on the ocean.

In 2003, on February 1, Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry. Detached elements from the thermal protection system had damaged the shuttle's left wing during launch, which lead to a structural failure. All seven crew members were killed.

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