How Many Shuttles Were Lost In Space?

By Antonia Čirjak on March 18 2020 in Did You Know

The path of space exploration, where humans decided to search for answers that explain life itself beyond the Blue planet, has been full of accidents and disasters.
  • Soyuz 1, with Vladimir Komarov on board, crashed because the parachutes used for slowing down the shuttle did not unfold the right way.
  • The Challenger shuttle broke into pieces soon after liftoff because of a malfunctioning O-ring, a part that became unstable due to low air temperature on January 28, 1986.
  • Although everyone knew about the damaged left wing of the Columbia shuttle, it still fell apart after it entered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board.

The path of space exploration, where humans decided to search for answers that explain life itself beyond the Blue planet, has been full of accidents and disasters. Launching shuttles into space from a standstill, or approaching Earth’s atmosphere when the astronauts come back, are all dangerous attempts where people fight the laws of gravity and test the technological advancements of our species to the maximum. 

Unfortunately, people’s lives were lost during space missions. Mostly coming as a result of technical failures, the world has witnessed how dangerous space travel and space exploration can be. If we need to find a silver lining, we can, if we realize that these accidents were very rare and that the space missions are conducted with the highest levels of security in mind. 

1967: Soyuz 1 Accident

The first person that died because of a spaceflight gone wrong was Vladimir Komarov. He was also the first person to go to space twice, but his second expedition cost him his life. The Soyuz 1 mission had big plans for Komarov, as they wanted him to reach the Moon, which would make the Russians first people that successfully landed a vehicle on the Moon surface.

However, things went terribly wrong. First, the mission control did not notice how one of the solar panels, vital for providing power to the shuttle, did not deploy correctly. Komarov had a hard time navigating, and the mission to the Moon was canceled. 

As Komarov was returning home, and he was entering Earth’s atmosphere, he deployed the parachutes that needed to slow him down. They did not unfold the right way, and Komarov could not slow down. Soyuz 1 crashed on April 24, 1967, making Komarov the first astronaut that died on a mission.

1986: The Challenger Disaster

On January 28, 1986, after the launch had been postponed numerous times, the space shuttle Challenger was scheduled to start the mission. It was cold that day, with air temperature measuring 26°F (−3°C). This was an aggravating circumstance because the O-rings, one of the parts involved in the proper functioning of the rocket boosters, could become unstable.

credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was scheduled to start the mission. Image credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

Unfortunately, they did. Just over 60 seconds after the launch, one of the O-rings malfunctioned and destabilized the trajectory of the shuttle. Already accelerating faster than the speed of sound, the Challenger shuttle could not handle the instability, and it broke apart. All seven astronauts died in the accident. 

2003: The Columbia Shuttle Disintegration

The problems for the seven astronauts of the space shuttle Columbia started during liftoff. A piece of foam that was covering the fuel tank broke and damaged the left wing of the shuttle. NASA’s mission control was aware of the problem, but could not detect how severe the damage was, due to the low quality of cameras that recorded the Columbia’s launch. 

When Columbia was returning home on February 1, 2003, it was evident how bad the damage of the left wing was. As it entered Earth’s atmosphere, the stress on the damaged wing was too high, and the shuttle disintegrated. As the wing broke off, all the other parts of the shuttle came apart, just seven minutes away from the landing point.

All seven astronauts from the Challenger shuttle died in this horrific tragedy. However, one part of their mission - the worms that were used to study the effects of weightlessness, remained alive in the Petri dishes found on the crash site.

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