Records and Facts

Lives That Have Been Lost in Space Programs

Space Shuttle

Photo by [jade] morgueFile

As with any government project, there are usually lives lost. Whether it is from being pushed to the limit or from mechanical failures, could be from most anything.  Of course there are tons of conspiracy theories as well that would suggest a multitude of deaths have occurred.

But what about the deaths that have occurred while people were in space or during certain space programs? In all reality, the space programs initiated by both the United States and the Soviet Union have been cause to hundreds of lives over the years. There were always special circumstances at play which caused these deaths, but luckily these incidents only happened once and have not been repeated.

The First Incident Where Lives Were Lost Involving Rockets

The Nedelin Disaster in Russia was the first and largest single space disaster ever recorded. The official number is 92 lives lost, but some believe this number could be as high as 150. This incident occurred on October 24, 1960 and was a huge scare.

Mitrofan Nedelin, the man in charge of the rocket launch was said to of cut corners and was ignoring safety protocols in order to make the launch happen in time to coincide with the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. As well as an attempt to gain recognition from Nikita Kruschev, the general secretary of the USSR.

Apparently there was a major malfunction involving the ignition sequence. Well, Nedelin and his team of engineers were still standing on the platform that surrounded the rocket when this malfunction occurred and the rocket ignited. Many of the spectators tried running for their lives but found themselves stuck to the ground as the tarmac melted around them. Of course they were unable to move and were engulfed in flames!

Lives Lost During Space Training Programs

March 23, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko was training in a ground-based simulator when he was killed by a flash fire. Since the incident, a crater on the far side of the moon has been named in his honor…Bondarenko Crater.

The First Life Lost on the Launch Pad

January 27, 1967 marked the first death by an American astronaut on a launch pad.  It was Apollo 1 which contained astronauts Ed White, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee. They died while in their launch capsule due to a fault in the 30 miles of wiring. The fault caused sparks in the wiring which ignited the oxygen inside the cabin. Seeing how it was pure oxygen that was in the capsule, the fire spread rapidly and eventually ignited the ethylene glycol fuel mixture. Unfortunately the astronauts were unable to open the escape hatch and met their demise.

Death by Parachute Malfunction

On April 24, 1967, the Soyuz 1 was reentering the atmosphere at 23,000 feet when the capsule’s parachute failed to open. The capsule hit the ground while going over 200 MPH. The pilot Vladimir Komarov was instantly killed and became the first person to ever die on a space mission.

Lives Lost During Reentry

June 29, 1971 marked another Soviet disaster. Soyuz 11 had just successfully completed  it’s visit to the world’s first space station, Salyut 1. While on it’s final approach to Earth, a valve opened during their reentry which caused air to rapidly escape their vehicle.

The three man crew tried desperately to stop the leak but were unsuccessful. As all the air escaped the spacecraft the cabin pressure collapsed to zero in a matter of two minutes. Even though the spacecraft landed safely, Georgi Dobrovsky, Victor Patsayev and Vladislav Volkov had all died due to asphyxiation. They were the first lives ever lost at this point of reentry.

Disastrous Rocket Explosion

In 1980 at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Soviet Union, the first rocket explosion took place killing fifty people that were on the launch pad.

Lives Lost During Liftoff – Space Shuttle Challenger

The U.S. Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986 within 74 seconds after liftoff. All seven crew members were killed in this explosion.  I remember this incident in particular. I was sitting in my 8th grade class room watching the launch on TV when the shuttle exploded. We couldn’t believe our eyes, it was a very sad day in American space history.

The First Woman to Die During a Space Mission

During the disaster of the Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28. 1986 Judith Resnick was one of the crew members on board as well as Christa McAuliffe. So sadly, we lost two women during this explosion at the same time.

The Death of a Private Citizen on a Space Program

Christa McAuliffe, who died during the Challenger explosion, was not only a woman, but she was also a schoolteacher who had applied for the opportunity to be on board the space shuttle. She was to be the first private citizen ever to be launched into space and was selected from 11,000 applicants.

The First Americans to Die During Reentry

February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart during reentry. The investigation concluded that a piece of insulating foam had broken away during launch and had damaged a wing. As the spacecraft began reentry, the heat entered through the wing and melted it away from the inside out. This caused the entire shuttle to disintegrate and all seven crew members died as a result.

I know this is not a very light hearted post. But we have to remember not to forget these tragedies. These deaths were not all without cause. We have to remember all these things were done in the name of progression and I believe it’s good to not only remember but to learn about these folks and respect what they’ve done for our countries.

If you have anything you would like to add for discussion, please feel free to use the comments below.

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