Worst Space Flight Disasters In History

In 2003, 7 astronauts of the Space Shuttle Columbia died as the vehicle disintegrated upon reentering Earth's atmosphere. We look at this and 3 other Space Age tragedies.

Taking on a mission to space has many risks and dangers for astronauts, whether it is on the way up to space or the return trip home. There is the risk of the rocket disintegrating, either during launch or upon re-entry. There is the threat of a puncture in the spacecraft or the suits of astronauts, leaving the space travelers without oxygen to breath. There is also much danger when having to go into the vacuum of space to perform repairs, where one can drift into space if an accident occurs. There is physical and emotional stress on the astronauts, as well as potential radiation exposure.

The four fatal space flights in human history

4. Soyuz 1 - Soviet Union

On April 24, 1967, after only a one day mission filled with technical problems the flight director of the Soyuz 1 ordered cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov to come back into orbit. Upon re-entry, the drogue parachute of the re-entry module deployed but the main parachute did not. Komarov then activated the reserve chute, but it became entangled with the drogue parachute, which did not deploy correctly. As a result of the parachute failure, the re-entry module fell to Earth almost entirely unimpeded, killing Komarov upon impact with the ground. The tragic result of the Soyuz 1 mission caused Soyuz 2 and 3 to be delayed and helped to scuttle Soviet plans of landing men on the moon. As a result of the delay and seeing what went wrong, the Soyuz program ended up being much improved. Vladimir Komarov is commemorated with two memorials on the Moon and one at the spot where the Soyuz crashed landed in the Province of Orenburg, Russia.

3. Soyuz 11 - Soviet Union

Soyuz 11 launched on June 6, 1971, with the mission to board the world's first space station Salyut 1. They arrived at Salyut 1 a day after launch and departed the station and landed back on Earth on June 30, 1971. However, when the recovery team opened the re-entry module they found cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev dead inside. It was later determined that a breathing ventilation value had been jolted open as the descent module separated from the service module of the Soyuz 11. This event caused the capsule to depressurize, causing the crew to die of asphyxiation. The crew of the Soyuz 11 remain the only men to have died in space. As a result of this tragedy, the Soyuz spacecraft was redesigned to only carry two cosmonauts so that there was room for the crew to wear special space suits which help to keep them alive in case of decompression. The crew of Soyuz 11 are honored with a memorial at the spot where it crashed in the Karaganda Region of Kazakhstan.

2. STS-51-L (Challenger) - United States of America

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger, on its tenth mission, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission ended catastrophically with the Challenger disintegrating 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members, Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, were killed. In the investigations following the disaster, it was never established as to how and when the crew exactly died. It was determined that the cause of the accident was the failure of the primary and secondary O-ring seals on the right rocket booster. This technical failure set off a series of reactions that resulted in the disintegration of the shuttle. In response to the tragedy NASA grounded the shuttle fleet for almost three years while a government commission investigated the accident and the space shuttle's rocket boosters underwent a complete redesign. The crew of Challenger is honored with a memorial in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

1. STS-107 (Columbia) - United States of America

On January 16th, 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off on its 28th mission. Columbia's purpose was to conduct different scientific experiments while in orbit, which they succeeded in their mission. On February 1, 2003, Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. All seven crew members, Rick Husband, William McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, Laurel Clark and IIan Ramon, were killed. It is unknown how the crew died, but NASA's report after the event suggested it was due to asphyxiation or lethal trauma. It was determined later that a piece of foam insulation broke off from the external tank and struck the left wing of the orbit upon the launch of the shuttle. This event caused hot atmospheric gasses to penetrate the shuttle upon re-entry, destroying the internal wing structure, which caused the shuttle to break apart. The Columbia disaster resulted in the shuttle program being suspended, thus delaying construction of the International Space Station. The crew of Colombia is honored with a memorial in Arlington National Cemetery and Sabine County, Texas.

How space flight disasters can be prevented

Space flights can prevent catastrophic events like those mentioned by learning and fixing the mistakes that were made in the past. NASA has learned from its mistakes and corrected issues that will not be present in future shuttles. Astronauts must go through extensive mental, physical and scientific training before being allowed on a spacecraft. Astronauts also go through rigorous medical checkups and quarantine using modern medicine and practices to ensure they are as healthy and disease-free as possible.

Disastrous Space Flights In History

RankDisaster and MissionDateFatalities
1Vehicle disintegration on re-entry, STS-1072003-02-01
2Vehicle disintegration during launch, STS-51-L1986-01-287
3Decompression, Soyuz 111971-06-30
4Parachute failure, Soyuz 11967-04-241

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