Space Missions That Went Incredibly Wrong

Going into space is exciting! The possibilities are endless as astronauts explore the unknown. But that doesn’t mean that there are no dangers. In fact, people are more likely to encounter an issue than have the mission go perfectly. And no one knows that better than the engineers behind these incidents. If you’d like to learn more about the space missions that went incredibly wrong, keep reading. 

1. The Challenger 

The Challenger disaster may just be the most well-known space failure of all time. On January 28th, 1986 the crew, which included America’s first African American and female astronaut, were on board when the rocket’s 10th launch failed after a mere 73 seconds. No one survived. It was then revealed that the vessel always had problems, even during its previous flights (hydrogen leaks etc.) and was never intended to go into space- it was just a test vehicle. The Challenger disaster was said to result from cold weather degrading the rocket boosters’ seal. 

2. Space Shuttle Columbia 

After a two-week mission, Space Shuttle Columbia was lost after it broke apart during reentry on February 1st, 2003. Prior to the attempt to get back to earth, some damage was detected in the shuttle’s thermal protection system. The investigation revealed that a piece of foam used for insulation had fallen off the external tank and hit the shuttle during its launch, damaging the leading edge of the left wing. This resulted in the extreme heat of the reentry process causing structural damage. All seven astronauts died.  

3. Apollo 1

Apollo 1 was meant to be the launch that allowed the first man to walk on the moon; it was supposed to leave on February 21st, 1967. But that never happened. A cabin fire on January 27th during the launch rehearsal test at Launch Complex 34 (in Florida) found all three crew members dead. An investigation into the incident revealed that it was due to electrical issues- the fire spread quickly due to the nylon material and high pressure oxygenized cabin atmosphere. Rescue attempts failed because the plug door hatch could not be opened due to the internal cabin pressure. The name “Apollo 1,” chosen by the crew, was made official after the accident. 

4. The Soyuz 11

Three Soviet cosmonauts lost their lives after they undocked the Soyuz 11 from space station Salyut 1. The three had been there for three weeks in June of 1971. Unfortunately, the construction on one of the cabin vent valves caused it to open at the service module during separation. The accident resulted in the only three human fatalities in space above 330,000 feet. 

5. X-15 Flight 191 

Michael J. Adams was on his seventh flight when he boarded the X-15 on November 15th, 1967. There were electrical problems, followed by issues. Investigators suspect that Adams became disoriented and upon reentry, the X-15 went into a spin at Mach 5. Adams recovered, but by the time he did, the X-15 went into an inverted dive, which led to the craft breaking apart at about 65,000 feet in the air. He was posthumously awarded astronaut wings.

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