Space flight related mishaps

The following events involve mishaps where a spacecraft was lost or destroyed, or where one or more of the spacecraft occupants was either killed or seriously injured. All of the following mishaps occurred during a flight, a flight test, a ground test, or a training session involving a vehicle capable of traveling into space (above 100 km in altitude). Where appropriate, previous or subsequent space mission experience is included.

  1. 21 July 1961; Mercury 4 : The second and last suborbital flight of the Mercury program, using a spacecraft nicknamed Liberty Bell 7, launched successfully and landed in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 miles east of Cape Canaveral. The spacecraft landed in the ocean without incident. However, shortly after splashdown, a side hatch was opened prematurely, flooding the spacecraft and causing it to sink in about 15,000 feet of water. The capsule was eventually recovered in 1999.

    The sole crew member, astronaut Virgil (Gus) Grissom (Gemini 3, Apollo 1), was rescued before the capsule sank. Grissom, along with two other astronauts, was killed in early 1967 in a fire during a training session for the Apollo 1 mission.

  2. 27 January 1967; Apollo 1: Astronauts Roger Chaffee, Virgil (Gus) Grissom (Mercury 4 and Gemini 3), and Edward White (Gemini 4) were killed at Cape Kennedy during a training exercise for the Apollo 1 mission. The crew died as a result of a fire within the spacecraft cabin.
  3. 23 April 1967; Soyuz 1: The first flight of the Soyuz series was successfully launched, and successfully reentered the atmosphere. However, both the main and reserve parachute system malfunctioned, causing the capsule to crash near Orenburg in the Soviet Union. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov (Voskhod 1) was killed on impact with the ground.

  4. 15 November 1967; X-15 - USAF astronaut Michael J. Adams was the vehicle departed from controlled flight and experienced an inflight breakup. Adams, who was also a USAF astronaut candidate in the Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, was posthumously awarded the USAF Astronaut Badge because the accident flight exceeded 50 miles (80 km) in altitude.

    While the current incarnation of the Astronaut Badge is awarded by NASA and US military organizations for flights above 100 km (the internationally recognized boundary of space), at the time of Adam's crash, NASA and the USAF awarded the badge for flights above 50 miles. Six other X-15 pilots besides Adams qualified for the Astronaut Badge for reaching altitudes between 50 miles and 100 km. One X-15 pilot, Joe Walker flew higher than 100 km in the X-15 on two occasions in 1963, making him the first person to fly into space twice. The X-15 program was jointly managed by NASA and USAF
  5. 6-29 June 1971; Soyuz 11/Salyut 1: This Soyuz flight carried cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov (Soyuz 7), and Viktor Patsayev to the first space station, Salyut 1. The 22-day visit to the station was largely successful. However, during reentry, the crew died after a valve malfunction caused a loss of cabin pressure. The three cosmonauts, who all died from a lack of oxygen, were not wearing space suits.

  6. 5 April 1975; Soyuz 18a: This Soyuz flight, also known as Soyuz 18-1, was intended to transport cosmonauts Vasili Lazarev and Oleg Makarov (Soyuz 26, Soyuz 27, and Soyuz T-3) to the Salyut 4 space station, but failed to achieve orbit due to failure of the second stage to separate property. The mission was aborted, and the capsule made an emergency landing about 21 minutes after launch, reportedly near the Chinese border. Lazarev reportedly suffered serious internal injures.

  7. 15-25 July 1975; Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (Apollo vehicle): This mission was the first joint mission involving the US and the Soviet Union, and was the last mission of the Apollo program. The Apollo vehicle carrying three astronauts and a Soyuz vehicle (Soyuz 19) carrying two cosmonauts, were docked for two days, performing a number of scientific experiments and laying the groundwork for future cooperative space missions. The Soyuz vehicle returned successfully on July 21st, three days before the Apollo vehicle.

    After the Apollo vehicle reentered the atmosphere and just before splashdown, the three astronauts were were accidentally exposed to toxic nitrogen tetroxide fumes from the oxidizer used for the Apollo's reaction control system. The exposure to the fumes happend because the reaction control system had been accidentally left on during descent, and fumes had been sucked into the cabin through an air intake valve.

    One crew member briefly lost consciousness, and all three crew members were hospitalized for several weeks recovering from their exposure. The three Apollo crew members were:
    Thomas Stafford (Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10), Vance Brand (STS-5, STS 41-B, and STS-35), and
    Donald K. (Deke) Slayton.

  8. 28 January 1986; Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L), near Cape Canaveral, Florida: Cold launch temperatures contributed to a failure of O-rings on one of the solid rocket motors. As a result of this failure, hot exhaust gases escaped out of the side of the solid rocket motor that in turn led to a major structural failure of the launch vehicle about 73 seconds after liftoff. All seven astronauts were killed. The crew members were:
    Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe ,
    Ronald McNair (STS 41-B),
    Ellison Onizuka (STS 51-C),
    Judith Resnik (STS 41-D),
    Francis Scobee (STS 41-C), and Michael Smith.
    Audio from launch and from President Reagan's address
    NASA Information on the Challenger Accident
    Report on cause of death of crew

  9. 1 February 2003; Space Shuttle Columbia ( STS-107), over northeast Texas: Space shuttle Columbia (Mission STS-107) disintegrated during re-entry. While most of the debris landed in northeast Texas and western Louisiana, especially the area around the town of Nacagdoches (Knack-a-doe-chess), the breakup very likely began further west, possibly before the spacecraft passed over California. Columbia was in the re-entry phase of flight after a 16-day mission and its intended destination was the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

    Communications with the shuttle were lost at about 9 a.m. local time. At the time of the most catastrophic phase of the breakup, the spacecraft was at an altitude of about 203,000 feet (approx. 39 mi. or 63 km) and was traveling at about mach 18 (roughly 12,500 mph or 20,000 kph). All seven astronauts on board the spacecraft were killed. The crew members were:
    Michael Anderson (STS-89), David Brown,
    Kalpana Chawla (STS-87), Laurel Clark,
    Rick Husband (STS-96), William McCool, and Ilan Ramon. Ramon was also the first Israeli to fly in space, and the first space fatality that did not involve a US citizen or a citizen of the Soviet Union.
    Audio from President George W. Bush's address
    Columbia Accident Investigation Board
    NASA Space Shuttle page
    Timeline and maps
  10. 31 October 2014; SpaceShipTwo; near Cantil, CA - Michael Alsbury, a civilian test pilot for the Scaled Composites company, was killed during a flight test of the SpaceShipTwo near Mojave, CA. The spacecraft, which was being developed for the Virgin Galactic company for use in commercial suborbital space flights, was on a test flight to evaluate the performance of its rocket engine.

    Shortly after SpaceShipTwo was launched from its carrier aircraft, an apparent malfunction of the flight control system led to an inflight breakup. The other crew member, Peter Siebold, who was seriously injured, was able to parachute to safety.

    Siebold is the second person to survive a mishap that resulted in the loss of a space vehicle, with the first being astronaut Virgil (Gus) Grissom who survived the sinking of his Mercury 4 capsule. Siebold is also the first person to survive a fatal space vehicle mishap.

Related resources
Space Shuttle mishap risk Shuttle information
Fatal events involving NASA astronauts
Other space flight accidents and incidents

Space flight related mishaps -- Revised: 5 November 2014