Special Report

Worst Disasters in Space Flight History

Source: Space Frontiers / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Apollo 1 cabin fire
> Date: Jan. 27, 1967
> Crew size: 3
> Outcome: Loss of crew members

Apollo 1 was America’s first crewed mission aimed at landing humans on the moon. During a test in which the cabin of Apollo 1 was filled with pure pressurized oxygen, an electrical short caused by an unprotected wire broke out. The crew inside could not open the hatch due to the pressure in the room, and teams outside the cabin couldn’t release them due to the extreme heat and smoke. Astronauts Gus Grissom (who had survived the Liberty Bell 7 sinking), Ed White, and Roger Chaffee suffocated to death.

Soyuz 1 crash landing
> Date: April 24, 1967
> Crew size: 1
> Outcome: Loss of crew

Soyuz 1, a Soviet spacecraft with a single crewmember, successfully launched into orbit on April 23, 1967. Unfortunately, one half of the ship’s solar array failed to deploy, leading to a power shortage, and the mission was called off. As cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov manually controlled the crippled ship during re-entry into earth’s atmosphere, the main parachute failed to deploy. The reserve chute then became tangled, leading to a high speed ground impact. Komarov did not survive the crash.

X-15 Breakup
> Date: Nov. 15, 1967
> Crew size: 1
> Outcome: Loss of crew

During a suborbital spaceflight of the joint NASA/USAF experimental X-15 spaceplane, an electrical disturbance possibly led to a slight failure in the aircraft’s control systems, ending with the plane going into a high Mach spin. Pilot Michael Adams successfully maneuvered the plane out of the spin, but it went into an inverted dive and he likely lost consciousness. The aircraft broke apart mid-air and Adams died in the crash.

Source: NASA / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Apollo 13 oxygen tank failure
> Date: April 13, 1970
> Crew size: 3
> Outcome: Loss of mission

Aiming to land on the moon, Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970. Two days into the flight, an oxygen tank exploded, venting its contents and the contents of the adjoining tank into space. This led to the loss of all the ship’s fuel cells, crucial oxygen reserves for breathing, and command system power. The crew was able to survive their cold and harrowing trip back by improvising solutions in the lunar module until their successful re-entry. They landed safely in the South Pacific on April 17.

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Soyuz 11 pyrotechnic failure
> Date: June 30, 1971
> Crew size: 3
> Outcome: Loss of crew

The Soyuz 11 mission was the first and only crewed mission to successfully enter the world’s first space station, Salyut 1. Soviet cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev spent over 20 days on the space station before departing. During their preparation for re-entry, a pyrotechnic failure caused the ship’s breathing vent to open at an altitude of 104 miles, leading to a rapid depressurization that killed the crew within seconds. They remain the only humans to have died while in space.

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