In an age where commercial space travel is nearly a reality and with movies like Hollywood blockbuster Gravity setting records, humans are firmly set with our eyes on the skies. However, especially given recent launch failures, we are reminded of the danger of spaceflight. To date, 19 astronauts and cosmonauts have died during flight or flight training, most from the Cold War space race between the Soviet Union and United States. Despite these and other catastrophic space disasters, space development doesn’t look as though it’ll slow down anytime soon. On today’s list, we revisit the worst space disasters in history!
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LLRV No 1
Three of five Lunar Landing Research & Training vehicles (LLRV) crashed near Houston, Texas during spaceflight training missions. The first one crashed on May 6, 1968, at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas due to a loss of helium pressure controlling the jets meant to steer the vehicle down to the surface. Notably, Neil Armstrong was manning the single-seat craft but ejected safely 200 feet before the crash.
Juno II Rocket
Launched on July 16, 1959, the Juno II rocket was meant to take the Explorer S1 satellite into orbit. A few seconds after launch, the rocket performed a near 180 degree flip, hurtling back towards the launch pad head-on. The safety officer exploded the rocket to protect those at the site. From December 1958 to May 1961, five out of ten Juno II rockets malfunctioned during launch.
2013 Baikonur Launch
A Russian Proton-M rocket launching near the Kazakh city of Baikonur exploded 17 seconds after liftoff on July 2, 2013. Soon after takeoff, the rocket curved to one side and, after trying to correct itself, overcompensated and began flying horizontally before self-destructing as it began to descend. Though there were no human injuries, $200 million worth of GLONASS navigation satellites (the Russian rival to the US’s GPS) were lost. The explosion marked the latest at the time of seven failed launches (and ten satellite losses) in the year since for the Russian Federal Space Agency.
Titan IV 4A-20
Lockheed-Martin’s Titan IV-A series launch vehicle exploded partway into flight on August 12, 1998. Carrying the expensive and highly classified National Reconnaissance Office’s SIGINT (Signal Interception) satellite, a short circuit reset the craft’s guidance system. Upon pitching forward, one of the solid rocket boosters broke loose and self-destructed, soon followed by the main vehicle.
Soviet Dogs in Space
The history of animal travel in space has led to major safety advancements for humans. However, they were not without their problems. Russians chose to use dogs instead of monkey as they were believed to be less fidgety during flight. The first two canine cosmonauts (Dezik an Tsygan) entered space on August 15, 1951 and returned successfully. The following mission, with Dezik and Lisa, was not so successful. For the third launch, one of the canine cosmonauts, Smelaya, ran away the day before the launch. She returned a day later in time for the flight, luckily not having been eaten by nearby wolves.