10 Of History's Worst Space Catastrophes

Astronaut floating in outer space Shutterstock
Astronaut floating in outer space Shutterstock
  • Only a small number of space accidents happened in space, the majority happens before takeoff.
  • The Soviet Union held a lot of their space program related accidents under wraps for a long time.
  • The Challenger catastrophe of 1986 was one of the events that left a huge mark on the American society.

Throughout history, mankind's desire to explore space resulted in catastrophes that still make us shiver. Since space travel is a task that requires multiple stages of preparation and equipment so complex that most of us would have a hard time understanding them, it is understandable that not everything can go according to plan. Still only several of the disasters happened in space, and the number of known casualties is not as large as one would expect.

A total of 18 people have died in space. A large number of disasters happen on Earth before the space flight even begins. In this article, we have found out more about some of the biggest catastrophes that happened as a result of man’s desire to travel into the vast unknown of space.

10. The Challenger Disaster


73 seconds after launching on January 28th, 1986, the Challenger started to break apart. Seven crew members lost their lives during this unfortunate accident, and it left a huge mark on an entire generation since it was televised. The flaw that caused the disaster was found beforehand but was not properly fixed, which makes the tragedy seem even more unfortunate. 

9. The Tragedy Of Apollo 1

This is a well known and documented tragedy that left a huge impact on the American space program. On January 27th, 1967, a fire broke out in the cabin of the Apollo 1, and it took the lives of its three-man crew. This accident had a large impact not only on the development of space exploration but also on American society as a whole. 

8. The Soyuz 1 Spacecraft Tragedy


The Soyuz 1 was the first crewed flight of this type of spacecraft commanded by Vladimir Komarov. Everything about this launch into space was plagued with numerous problems of a technical nature. During the return to Earth using a descent module, Komarov was killed when the parachute failed to open. This happened on April 23rd, 1967.

7. The Launch Pad Accident Of Plesetsk

After taking a break from the Soviet Union, we return there once again, this time to the year 1980. This launchpad disaster was responsible for the deaths of 48 people, while 87 more were injured. This is another accident that was kept under wraps until 1989 when the Soviet Union tried to blame the dead crew members for what happened.

6. The Accident Of The Brazilian Alcântara VLS Spacecraft

This accident happened in 2003 when Brazil was developing its space program. It was the third attempt for the Brazilian space program to launch its rocket into space. However, it exploded before launching and 21 people that were working on the site were killed. 

5. The Disaster Of Intelsat 708

In 1996, a Chinese test spacecraft called Intelsat 708 had a malfunction and it landed in a village where it killed six people. The interesting thing to note here is that this was done in collaboration with American companies. After this incident, Congress passed laws that made it harder for technology to leave the borders of the United States.

4. The Accident During The Voskhod 2 Spacewalk

The Soviet Union was making big advancements in the exploration of space during the 1960s. In 1965, a Russian astronaut Alexey Leonov managed to walk through space for 12 minutes before trying to return to his spacecraft, Voskhod 2. However, his suit ballooned while he was out in space so he could not fit through the door.

They managed to rescue him somehow, but they had problems shutting the doors and the entire mission was in danger once again when they landed far from their course. Fortunately, it all ended well.

3. The Nedelin Catastrophe

In 1960 the Soviets were developing a prototype of a missile designed for space travel. While they were testing the prototype, an explosion occurred in one of the engines, and it killed many of the personnel working on the missile. It is assumed that hundreds of people were either killed or injured. The accident was kept secret for a long time despite it being quite large, and it wasn’t until 1989 that the government of Russia admitted that it happened.

2. The Soyuz 11 Disaster

Soyuz 11 was a soviet crewed mission into outer space that managed to board a space station called Salyut 1. They arrived at the space station on June 7th, 1971, but a disaster happened 22 days later when they tried to return to Earth. The crew capsule of the ship depressurized and killed the crew, consisting of three people, while they were preparing to enter the atmosphere.

1. The Columbia Space Shuttle

This disaster happened in 2003 when the Columbia Space Shuttle exploded during re-entry into the atmosphere. This space shuttle was under the control of NASA for 22 years and completed 27 space missions, but it did not survive the return from the 28th mission.


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