Special Report

This Was One of the Worst Soviet Space Disasters

What was known as the “space race” began in April 1961. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth in Vostok 1. Americans were shocked the Soviets had made this important first move. On May 5, 1961, the U.S. put Alan Sheppard into space. The race was on in earnest. Eventually, the U.S. “won” when Apollo 11 took astronauts to the moon, with two landing on the surface on June 20, 1969.

Space exploration is dangerous. Americans were killed during the Apollo program and the space shuttle program. The Soviet Union also had its share of fatal accidents. One of its worst space disasters was the Soyuz 7K-OKS catastrophe on June 30, 1971. (Also see, 8 of the worst aircraft disasters in military history.)

Cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev died in space on that date The crew had set a record for time in space at 23 days. During that time, the Soyuz 11 spacecraft docked with the Soviet Salyut-1 orbital station. The three were heroes in the Soviet Union. (These are the largest spacecrafts to crash back to Earth.)

When the capsule returned to Earth, it appeared to land without a problem in what is now Kazakhstan. But when rescue teams arrived, they found all three crew members dead. All had suffocated. The cause was traced to a defective breathing ventilation valve, which had come open too early and depressurized the spacecraft. The crew ran out of air and suffocated before they could close the valve. The three cosmonauts were buried underneath the Kremlin Wall. After the Soyuz-11 tragedy, Soviet crewed flights were suspended for two years.

See 24/7 Wall St.’s list of 20 of the worst disasters in space flight history.

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