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14 Most Terrifying Astronaut Accidents

As fascinating and thrilling a space venture might present itself, those are actually more fatal, incredibly dangerous and insane than any other thing on the earth. We are more familiar with big space tragedies like Challenger and Apollo 13, but the fact is that there are other more horrifying and tragic space accidents which are fairly unknown. We believe that most you have already watched the space thriller “Gravity”, which, although fictionally but truthfully depicted the terrifying prospect of an astronaut adrift in space. Today, let’s find out what it takes to be an astronaut. Below is the list of most horrific accidents occurred to the cosmonauts.

14. Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.

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The year 1967 was plagued with many spaceflight fatalities. After a couple of months since the T-38 jet crash in St. Louis, Missouri, another astronaut met his demise on December 8, 1967. Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. was the first African-American astronaut in the United States Air Force. In June 1967, after successfully completing the Air Force Flight Test Pilot Training School, he was selected as an astronaut in the USAF’s Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program.

Lawrence Jr. was killed in the crash of an F-104 Starfighter at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was flying as a flight instructor pilot for a test trainee learning a toilsome steep-descent glide technique. After an erroneous approach, the flight went off balance. The airplane struck the ground hard, it caught fire while rolling on the ground. The trainee pilot’s timely ejection saved him with major injuries.

But, Lawrence, was unable to escape in time, who was sitting in the back seat, because of an ejection mechanism, which delays it for a moment to avoid hitting the front seat, killing Lawrence instantly. Had he survived, he most likely would have been among the (MOL) astronauts who were transferred to NASA after the program’s cancellation, some of whom flew on the Space Shuttle.

13. Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was undoubtedly the first ever human who went into the outer space in 1961. Upon his arrival, he became popular and an international celebrity. He inadvertently thwarted his death in 1967, when he was the backup crew for Soyuz 1, which ended in a fatal crash. Gagarin died on 27 March 1968, in a MiG-15 training jet crash near the town of Kirzhach. On board with him was flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin. The cause of the crash that killed both of them was not entirely clear, and has been a subject of speculation over the years.

In a declassified report in 2003, KGB blamed the ground staff at the airbase for the crash. The investigation concluded that the MiG-15 entered a spin, either due to a bird strike or because of a sudden move to avoid another aircraft. Then, because of the out-of-date weather report, supplied by the ground control, the crew misjudged the altitude, and could not react properly to bring the MiG-15 out of its spin.

12. Voskhod’s Vicious Vacuum

Voskhod 2 was a Soviet manned space mission launched on March 18, 1965. The mission featured the world’s first ever spacewalk by one of its crew member Alexei Leonov. Leonov’s only tasks were to attach a camera to the end of the airlock to record his spacewalk. But, after minutes in open space, he suddenly realized that something wasn’t right. His pressurized suit began to bulge in the space vacuum to the point where he could not reenter the airlock. To allow him some flexibility, he opened a pressure valve to grant some of the suit’s pressure to bleed off, but that resulted in an extremely low level of oxygen, bringing himself dangerously close to suffocation.

After hustling with the space suit, he was barely able to get back inside the capsule, suffering side effects of the bends. The crew again experienced a subsequent difficulty in sealing the hatch properly due to thermal distortion caused by Leonov’s lengthy stay in space. Because the malfunction, the crew could not keep to their reentry schedule and landed hundred kilometers off course in a remote forest. Fortunately, both the astronauts survived and rescued later.

Read: 15 Amazing Space Suit Designs

11. MIR accident, progress

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In June 1997, an unmanned Progress M-34 carrying re-supplies, crashed with the Russian Mir space station while docking. The Russians were testing station’s TORU manual docking system to manually dock Progress carrier with an intent to replace much expensive Krus automated docking system. On-board Mir, Vasily Tsibliev, had taken remote control of the Progress and was steering it via a live camera feed mounted on the Progress. However, TV screens don’t offer the greatest depth perception, and he only realized too late that he was bringing the ship in far too fast.

The Progress freighter collided with Mir destroying its Spektr module and solar arrays of the space station. It also punctured a hole in the hull, causing air depressurizing. As Foale used his expertise in physics to aid Russian ground controllers into correcting the resulting attitude misalignments that resulted from the collision, Tsibliyev and Aleksandr Lazutkin went to work to inspect the collision damage from the interior of the station.

10. Fire in altitude chamber

A sensory deprivation chamber is an extremely common procedure for an astronaut. It is meant for the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli from one or more of the senses. The process is ugly but harmless, but not in the case of a Russian trainee cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko. Bondarenko was a 24-year-old cosmonaut-in-training, who had reached the tenth day of his fifteen days endurance training in Moscow. The chamber was at least filled with 50% oxygen. Bondarenko, having completed his work for the day, he removed monitoring sensors from his body and washed his skin with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, which he then carelessly threw away. The cotton ball landed on an electric hot plate which caught fire. He suffered third-degree burns over his body and face, and died shortly after being hospitalized.

9. Struck twice by lightning during launch

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Apollo 12 was launched on schedule from the Kennedy space station under a heavy rainstorm. Thirty-six and a half seconds into the air, Astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Dick Gordon went through a fierce lightning strike, which knocked the their three fuel cells offline and forced the craft to switch to battery power automatically. While they were still scrambling to fix problems, another lightning struck the Apollo 12 in 52 seconds after liftoff, this time it knocked out the on-board guidance platform offline.

Four temperature sensors on the outside of the Lunar Module were burnt out and four measuring devices in the reaction control system failed temporarily. Back at mission control, everyone was anxious, but there was one young engineer who was able to solve the problem by identifying a single obscure switch. Fuel cell power was restored about four minutes later. The astronauts spent few more crucial time in Earth orbit to make sure the spacecraft was functional before firing their third stage engine and departing for the Moon. That engineer was John Aaron, who eventually became manager of the International Space Station.

Read: 10 Worst Space Shuttle Launch Failures

8. Equipment failure

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The mission conducted the docking of two spacecraft in orbit. Gemini VIII was planned to be a three-day mission. After being launched into its orbit, on the fourth revolution, it was to rendezvous and dock with an Agena target vehicle, which had been earlier launched into a 161-nautical-mile circular orbit. After a successful docking, a maneuvering thruster refused to shut down and put their capsule into an uncontrolled spin. After the Gemini spun up to one revolution per second, the command pilot Neil Armstrong regained control by switching from the main attitude control system to the reentry system. Mission rules required a landing as soon as possible once the reentry thrusters were used, causing an early end to the flight.

7. Aborted spacewalk after water leak in suit


In July 2013, during EVA-23 (Extravehicular activity) of Expedition 36 to the International Space Station, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano reported that water was steadily leaking at the back of his head. Flight controllers aborted the EVA immediately, and Parmitano made his way back to the airlock, followed by fellow astronauts. The airlock began re-pressurizing, and by this time Parmitano started having difficulty seeing, hearing, and speaking due to the amount of water in his suit. After re-pressurization, Expedition 36 commander Pavel Vinogradov and crew members Fyodor Yurchikhin and Karen Nyberg quickly removed Parmitano’s helmet and soaked up the water with towels. Despite the incident, Parmitano was reported to be in good spirits and suffered no injury.

6. Gemini 9A

Gemini 9A was a 1966 manned space flight of NASA’s Gemini program. On February 28, 1966, Elliot M. See and Charles A. Bassett II, the original prime crew of Gemini 9A were flying from Texas to inspect the Gemini 9 spacecraft at the McDonnell Aircraft plant in St. Louis, Missouri. The conditions at Lambert Field were poor and, as a consequence, in attempting a visual approach and landing, See hit one of the assembly buildings, where another two spacecraft were being constructed, causing the aircraft to crash, killing himself and Bassett instantly. The mission was flown June 3–6, 1966 by backup command pilot Thomas P. Stafford and pilot Eugene Cernan.

5. Gas poisoning on board

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July 17, 1975 marked down a special day in world history, when a US Apollo spacecraft and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked in a display of international space faring goodwill. The mission ceremoniously marked the end of the Space Race that had begun in 1957. The Mission was considered a great success,  as both sides exchanged pleasantries and were offered tours of each other’s craft. It all went according to plan until Apollo began its journey towards home.

Upon reentry and splashdown of the Apollo craft, the crew was accidentally exposed to toxic nitrogen tetroxide fumes, caused by a malfunction in the reaction control system (RCS) oxidizer. Fighting to maintain consciousness in the toxic mist, one of the astronaut Tom Stafford got oxygen masks for his crew, one of whom had already passed out. All of them were rescued and were admitted in hospital.

4. The X-15 disaster

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The North American X-15 was a Hypersonic aircraft that traveled at such high altitudes that most of its operating pilots were qualified as astronauts. Michael J. Adams was one of them. He was a pilot of extraordinary skills, who won numerous prestigious trophies. In 1965, he was selected for the United States Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program as a pilot. And in 1966, he became a part of the North American X-15 program.

His X-15 flight on 15 November 1967, was as usual, but soon after reaching a cruising altitude of 50.38 miles, some on-board electrical disturbances affected the inertial system and boost guidance computer causing the plane to be disoriented. Unnoticed by the pilot, after a planned wing-rocking maneuver, the vehicle’s heading started banking towards the right.

The heading drift further increased while the X-15 was travelling at a speed of Mach 5 (3,400 miles), during this he finally recognized that he was in a Hypersonic spin. Adams was able to recover from the spin, but soon he found himself in a nosedive position at Mach 4.7. He slammed into the California desert at 6,400 kilometers per hour (4,000 mph) and was killed instantly.

3. Decompression Soyuz 11

The crew of Soyuz 11 was killed after undocking from the Soviet space station Salyut 1 after a three-week stay on June 30, 1971. A cabin vent valve accidentally opened at service module separation. It quickly became apparent that they had asphyxiated. The fault was traced to a breathing ventilation valve, located between the orbital module and the descent module, that had been jolted open as the descent module separated from the service module, 12m 3s after retrofire. The two were held together by explosive bolts designed to fire sequentially; in fact, they had fired simultaneously.

The explosive force of the simultaneous bolt firing caused the internal mechanism of the pressure equalization valve to loosen a seal that was usually discarded later and which normally allowed for automatic adjustment of the cabin pressure. The valve opened at an altitude of 168 kilometers (104 mi), and the resultant loss of pressure was fatal within seconds. Flight recorder data from the single cosmonaut outfitted with biomedical sensors showed cardiac arrest occurred within 40 seconds of pressure loss. The recovery team found the crew dead.

2. Apollo 1 fire incident

A cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test on January 27 at Cape Kennedy Air Force Station Launch Complex killed all three crew members Of the Apollo 1 and destroyed the Command Module (CM). After investigation, in a reconstruction of events it was found out that while crew members were using the time to run through their checklist again, a momentary increase in AC Bus 2 voltage occurred causing a spark. The intensity of the fire fed by pure oxygen caused the pressure to rise to 29 psi (200 kPa), which damaged the Command Module’s inner wall at 6:31:19.

Read: 30 Latest Space Discoveries and Achievements

Flames and gases then rushed outside the Command Module through open access panels to the pad service structure. Intense heat and smoke, made gas masks ineffective, which were designed for toxic fumes rather than heavy smoke hampered the ground crew’s attempts to rescue the men. In agonizing pain, the astronauts tried whatever they could do, but all in vein. All three were found dead.

1. Parachute Failure

Soyuz 1 was launched on 23 April 1967 from Baikonur Cosmodrome. On board was Vladimir Komarov, the first Soviet cosmonaut to fly in space twice. The problems began shortly after launch when one solar panel failed to unfold, leading to an acute shortage of power for the spacecraft. And not much later, every important equipment starts to fall apart. He faced further problems when the orientation detectors complicated maneuvering the craft. By orbit 13, the automatic stabilization system was completely dead, and the manual system was only partially effective.

Read: 25+ Most Amazing Things Found In Space

Back at the ground mission control, as a result of Komarov’s report during the 13th orbit, the flight director decided to abort the mission half way through. After 18 orbits, Soyuz 1 fired its retrorockets and reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. To slow the descent, first the drogue parachute was deployed, followed by the main parachute. Here, between life and death, it was only a parachute which could have saved his life. However, due to a defect, the main parachute did not unfold. Komarov died soon after the impact.