Special Report

Worst Disasters in Space Flight History

Soyuz 18-1 electrical failure
> Date: April 5, 1975
> Crew size: 2
> Outcome: Loss of vehicle/mission, crew injury

As the Soviet ship Soyuz 18-1 launched in an attempt to dock at the Salyut 4 space station, an electrical malfunction led to a cascade of problems involving the breakaway parts of the launch booster, which failed to detach from the ship. Safety mechanisms kicked in at 111 miles altitude, finally separating the capsule from the faulty launch vehicle. The crew survived a high g-force re-entry and landed in the Altai Mountains, where the capsule rolled down an incline and stopped just before falling off of a cliff. Commander Vasily Lazarev never fully recovered from his internal injuries, and never went into space again.

Source: sdasmarchives / Flickr

Apollo-Soyuz cabin propellant exposure
> Date: July 24, 1975
> Crew size: 3
> Outcome: Crew injury

The joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was the first crewed international space mission. The mission was successful, except for a human error during the landing of the Apollo craft that led to toxic propellant fumes entering the cabin. One member of the crew lost consciousness, but another was able to get an oxygen mask onto him. After landing, the crew spent two weeks hospitalized while they recovered.

Soyuz 23 docking failure
> Date: Oct. 16, 1976
> Crew size: 2
> Outcome: Loss of mission

The mission of Soyuz 23 was to dock on the Salyut 5 space station; however, the automatic docking system malfunctioned during the ship’s approach to the station, and fuel reserves were burned dangerously low. The mission was aborted and the craft re-entered earth’s atmosphere successfully. It landed in the partially frozen Lake Tengiz during a blizzard and sank beneath the surface. The recovery team took nine hours to extract the crew, whom they had assumed to be dead. The two men were cold, but were alive and well.

Source: Space Frontiers / Archive Photos via Getty Images

STS-2 fuel cell failure
> Date: Nov. 12, 1981
> Crew size: 2
> Outcome: Crew injury

During a planned five-day orbit, the crew of STS-2 were to test equipment including a shuttle imaging radar system and a robotic arm called Canadarm. The mission was cut to two days when a fuel cell that produced electricity and drinking water malfunctioned, leading to excess hydrogen in the water. When the crew drank the water, it caused them to belch; but belching in zero gravity leads to regurgitation. Hence, the crew stopped drinking and returned severely dehydrated.

Soyuz T-10-1 pad booster fire
> Date: Sep. 26, 1983
> Crew size: 2
> Outcome: Loss of vehicle/mission

As Soyuz T-10-1 prepared for liftoff in an attempt to meet up with the Salyut 7 space station, a fuel leak caused the launch vehicle to catch fire. After multiple attempts by both the cabin crew and the ground crew to activate the escape system, it finally activated and detached from the booster seconds before the booster exploded. An emergency parachute deployed and the capsule landed 2.5 miles from the burning launch pad with the crew shaken but uninjured aside from bruises.

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