List of spaceflight-related accidents and incidents

List of spaceflight-related accidents and incidents
Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrates 73 seconds after launch, due to hot gases escaping the SRBs leading to structural failure of the external tank. The accident resulted in the death of all seven crew members.

There have been a number of significant accidents and incidents in the history of spaceflight. In particular, incidents during human spaceflight missions have resulted in 18 astronaut and cosmonaut fatalities, as of 2010.[1][nb 1] Additionally, there have been some astronaut fatalities during other spaceflight-related activities, such as the Apollo 1 launch pad fire which killed all three crew members. There have also been some non-astronaut fatalities during spaceflight-related activities.

This article provides an overview of all known fatalities and near-fatalities that occurred during manned space missions, accidents during astronaut training and during the testing, assembling or preparing for flight of manned and unmanned spacecraft. Not included are fatalities occurring during intercontinental ballistic missile accidents, and Soviet or German rocket-fighter projects of World War II.[clarification needed] Also not included are alleged unreported Soviet space accidents that are not believed by mainstream historians to have occurred.


Astronaut fatalities

(In the statistics below, "astronaut" is applied to all space travellers to avoid the use of "astronaut/cosmonaut".)

Astronaut fatalities during spaceflight

The history of space exploration has had a number of incidents that resulted in the deaths of the astronauts during a space mission. As of 2010, in-flight accidents have killed 18 astronauts, in four separate incidents.[nb 2]

NASA astronauts who have lost their lives in the line of duty are memorialized at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida. Cosmonauts who have died in the line of duty under the auspices of the Soviet Union were generally honored by burial at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow. It is unknown whether this remains tradition for Russia, since the Kremlin Wall Necropolis was largely a Communist honor and no cosmonauts have died in action since the Soviet Union fell.

There have been four fatal in-flight accidents on missions which were considered spaceflights under the internationally accepted definition of the term, plus one on the ground during rehearsal of a planned flight. In each case all crew were killed. To date, there has never been an incident where an individual member of a multi-member crew has died during (or while rehearsing) a mission.

Incident Date Mission Fatalities Description
Parachute failure 1967 April 24 Soyuz 1 Soviet Union Vladimir Komarov The one-day mission had been plagued by a series of mishaps with the new type of spacecraft, which culminated in the capsule's parachute not opening properly after atmospheric reentry. Komarov was killed when the capsule hit the ground at high speed.[3]

The Soyuz 1 crash site coordinates are 51°21′41″N 59°33′44″E / 51.3615°N 59.5622°E / 51.3615; 59.5622, which is 3 km West of Karabutak, Province of Orenburg in the Russian Federation. This is about 275 km East South East of Orenburg. There is a memorial monument at the site in the form of a black column with a bust of Komarov at the top, in a small park on the roadside.[4][5][6]

Crew exposed to vacuum of space 1971 June 30 Soyuz 11 Soviet Union Georgi Dobrovolski
Soviet Union Viktor Patsayev
Soviet Union Vladislav Volkov
The crew of Soyuz 11 were killed after undocking from space station Salyut 1 after a three-week stay. A valve on their spacecraft had accidentally opened when the service module separated, which was only discovered when the module was opened by the recovery team. Technically the only fatalities in space (above 100 km).[7][8]

The Soyuz 11 landing coordinates are 47°21′24″N 70°07′17″E / 47.35663°N 70.12142°E / 47.35663; 70.12142 which is 90 km South West of Karazhal, Karagandy, Kazakhstan and about 550 km North East of Baikonur. At the site is a memorial monument in the form of a three-sided metallic column. Near the top of the column on each of the three sides is the engraved image of the face of each crew member set into a stylized triangle. The memorial is in open, flat country, far from any populated area. It is within a small, circular, fenced area.[9][10] [11]

External tank compromise and vehicle disintegration - Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 1986 January 28 STS-51-L United States Greg Jarvis
United States Christa McAuliffe
United States Ronald McNair
United States Ellison Onizuka
United States Judith Resnik
United States Michael J. Smith
United States Dick Scobee
The first U.S. multiple in-flight fatalities. The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off on STS-51-L. Analysis of the accident showed that a faulty O-ring seal had allowed hot gases from the shuttle solid rocket booster (SRB) to weaken the external propellant tank, and also the strut that held the booster to the tank. The tank aft region failed, causing it to begin disintegrating. The SRB strut also failed, causing the SRB to rotate inward and expedite tank breakup. Challenger was thrown sideways into the Mach 1.8 windstream causing it to break up in midair with the loss of all seven crew members aboard. NASA investigators determined they may have survived during the spacecraft disintegration, while possibly unconscious from hypoxia; at least some of them tried to protect themselves by activating their emergency oxygen. Any survivors of the breakup were killed, however, when the largely intact cockpit hit the water at 200 mph (320 km/h).[12]

The vehicle impacted the water about 20 miles (32 km) east of Cape Canaveral. "Tracking reported that the vehicle had exploded and impacted the water in an area approximately located at 28.64 degrees north, 80.28 degrees west", Mission Control, Houston.[13] About half of the vehicle's remains were never recovered, and fragments occasionally still wash ashore on the coast of Brevard County, Florida.

Vehicle disintegration on re-entry - Space Shuttle Columbia disaster 2003 February 1 STS-107 United States Rick D. Husband
United States William McCool
United States Michael P. Anderson
United States David M. Brown
United States Kalpana Chawla
United States Laurel B. Clark
Israel Ilan Ramon
The Space Shuttle Columbia was lost as it reentered at the end of a two-week mission, STS-107. Damage to the shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS) led to structural failure in the shuttle's left wing and, ultimately, the spacecraft broke apart. Investigations after the tragedy revealed the damage to the reinforced carbon-carbon leading edge wing panel had resulted from a piece of insulation foam breaking away from the external tank during the launch and hitting shuttle's wing.[14]

The vehicle broke up over the southwestern United States, with any surviving fragments falling over eastern Texas and central Louisiana.

There has also been a single accident on a flight which was considered a spaceflight by those involved in conducting it, but not under the internationally accepted definition:

  • 1967 November 15: control failure: Michael J. Adams died while piloting a North American X-15 rocket plane. Major Adams was a U.S. Air Force pilot in the NASA/USAF X-15 program. During X-15 Flight 191, his seventh flight, the plane first had an electrical problem and then developed control problems at the apogee of its flight. The pilot may also have become disoriented. During reentry from a 266,000 ft (50.4 mile, 81.1 km) apogee, the X-15 yawed sideways out of control and went into a spin at a speed of Mach 5. The pilot recovered, but went into a Mach 4.7 inverted dive. Excessive acceleration led to the X-15 breaking up in flight at about 65,000 feet (19.8 km)).[15] Adams was posthumously awarded astronaut wings as his flight had passed an altitude of 50 miles (80.5 km) (the U.S. definition of space).[16][17]

Astronaut fatalities during spaceflight training

In addition to accidents during spaceflights, astronauts have experienced accidents during training.

Incident Date Mission Fatalities Description
Fire in low-pressure chamber 1961 March 23 Soviet Union Valentin Bondarenko First space-related casualty. Bondarenko was in training in a special low-pressure chamber with a pure oxygen atmosphere. He threw an alcohol-soaked cloth onto an electric hotplate. In the pure oxygen environment, the fire quickly engulfed the entire chamber. Bondarenko suffered third-degree burns over most of his body and face and was barely alive when the chamber was opened, and died of his burns shortly after being hospitalized. Bondarenko's death was covered up by the Soviet government; word of his death only reached the West in 1986. Many materials become explosively flammable when exposed to oxygen with a higher partial pressure than that of air at STP; modern spacecraft use mixtures of continuously replaced oxygen and nitrogen. It has been speculated that knowledge of Bondarenko's death might have led to changes that would have prevented the Apollo 1 fire.[18][19]:266
Training jet crash 1964 October 31 United States Theodore Freeman Freeman was on landing approach to Ellington AFB near Houston, TX. He ultimately died due to a goose smashing the left side of the cockpit canopy of his T-38 jet trainer. Flying shards of Plexiglas entered the engine intake and caused both engines to flame out. The astronaut attempted to continue the landing approach with flamed out engines, but then attempted to steer the troubled aircraft away from buildings at Ellington and toward an open field, when the aircraft could not make it to the runway. Freeman ejected from the stricken aircraft, but was too close to the ground at that point for his parachute to open properly. Freeman was found, dead, about 90 meters from the crashed aircraft.[20][21] The creation of zero-zero ejection seats has eliminated this problem. (However, T-38s remaining in service still do not have a zero-zero ejection seat.)
Training jet crash 1966 February 28 United States Elliot See
United States Charles Bassett
The original Gemini 9 crew were killed while attempting to land their T-38 in bad weather. See misjudged his approach and crashed into the McDonnell aircraft factory. See and Bassett were flying from Houston, TX to St. Louis, MO to inspect the Gemini 9 spacecraft being built at the McDonnell Aircraft Company located at the airport. They were making an instrument landing in light fog when their T-38 crashed onto the roof of the factory, skidded across it and crashed into a parking lot adjacent to the building. The plane burst into flames and both pilots were killed. Stafford and Cernan, their backup crew, were flying behind them in another T-38 jet. They landed safely after the first aircraft crashed.[22][23]
Fire on board during launch rehearsal 1967 January 27 Apollo 1 United States Gus Grissom
United States Edward White II
United States Roger Chaffee
A fire in the cabin claimed the lives of all three Apollo 1 crew members as they rehearsed the launch sequence for their planned February 21 launch. An electrical fault sparked the blaze that spread quickly in a pure oxygen atmosphere.[24]
Training jet crash 1967 October 5 United States Clifton "C.C." Williams Williams was flying alone in a T-38 jet, from Cape Kennedy, Florida to Houston, Texas, via Mobile, Alabama. He radioed a distress May Day and crashed on a plantation near Miccosukee, Florida, about 15 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida, near the Georgia border. The aircraft dove straight down, between pine trees 30 meters apart, and crashed without touching them, although it did singe them from a fire caused by the crash. The plane disintegrated, according to an Air Force spokesman.[25] Williams died after a mechanical failure caused the aileron controls to jam on his T-38. The jet was flying at 6,800 meters when it performed a sudden roll to the left and dove into the ground, almost straight down, at 1,125 km/h. Williams ejected at 450 meters altitude, but at that speed and altitude, the parachute did not open properly.[26] He had been assigned to the back-up crew for what would be the Apollo 9 mission and would have most likely been assigned as Lunar Module pilot for Apollo 12. The Apollo 12 Mission Patch has four stars on it: one each for the three astronauts who flew the mission and one for Williams.
Training jet crash 1967 December 8 United States Robert Lawrence Lawrence was named the first African-American astronaut for the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, but he never made it into space. He died when his F-104 Starfighter jet crashed at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Major Lawrence, 32, was in the final two weeks of the MOL pilot training course. He was completing a proficiency test flight along with Major Harvey Royer, Chief of Operations of the USAF ARP School. Royer was flying as pilot in the front seat and Lawrence was copilot in the rear seat. The crew were practicing a series of very high speed, quick descent landing profiles, used by lifting bodies and the X-15, when the accident occurred. The aircraft hit the runway hard and the landing gear collapsed, the aircraft belly was on fire and the canopy shattered. The aircraft skidded along the runway for 60 meters and took to the air again for 550 meters. Both crewmen ejected. Royer survived, but was seriously injured. Lawrence was found in the ejection seat, 70 meters from the crashed aircraft, with his parachute unopened. He was killed instantly.[27][28]

Training jet crash 1968 March 27 Soyuz 3 Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin The first human in space died when his MiG-15UTI jet trainer crashed while he prepared for the Soyuz 3 mission.[29] An official report at the time blamed either birdstrike or that he turned too fast to avoid something in the air. But in 2003 it came to light that the KGB had found that the official report was false and that the truth was negligence by an air force colonel on the ground, who gave an out-of-date weather report; the flight needed good weather and the aircraft not to have external extra fuel tanks, but the cloud base was nearly at ground level and the aircraft had external fuel tanks under its wings. Since Gagarin was a very public figure, the Soviet government decided that it would be bad publicity to have him killed in a mere training accident and so several newspapers printed the report that he actually died heroically testing a top-secret prototype. This again led to speculation amongst Western conspiracy-proponents as to whether Gagarin had instead died in hushed-up spacecraft accident (see Lost cosmonauts).

The crash site coordinates are 56°02′48″N 39°01′35″E / 56.04664°N 39.0265°E / 56.04664; 39.0265, which is 18 km South East of Kirzhach and 3 km South West of Novoselovo in the Vladimirskaya oblast of the Russian Federation. This is about 90 km North East of Moscow. There is an obelisk style monument at the site with profiles of Gagarin and Seryogin engraved on the side of it.[30][31][32]

Drowned during water recovery training 1993 July 11 Russia Sergei Vozovikov Sergei Yuriyevich Vozovikov was a member of the Soviet Air Force Cosmonaut Training Group 11. His Cosmonaut training was from 1 October 1991 to 6 March 1992. He drowned 11 July 1993 during water recovery training in the Black Sea, near Rayon Anapa, Russia.[33][34]

Percentage of fatal spaceflights

There are various ways of measuring the danger of spaceflight based on comparing the number of fatalities to the number of non-fatal spaceflights.

About two percent of the manned launch/reentry attempts have killed their crew, with Soyuz and the Shuttle having almost the same death percentage rates. Except for the X-15 (which is a suborbital rocket plane), other launchers have not launched sufficiently often for reasonable safety comparisons to be made.

About five percent of the people that have been launched have died doing so. As of November 2004, 439 individuals have flown on spaceflights: Russia/Soviet Union (96), USA (277), others (66).[citation needed] Twenty-two have died while in a spacecraft: three on Apollo 1, one on Soyuz 1, one on X-15-3, three on Soyuz 11, seven on Challenger, and seven on Columbia. By space program, 18 NASA astronauts (4.1%) and four Russian cosmonauts (0.9% of all the people launched) died while in a spacecraft.[dated info]

Soyuz accidents have claimed the lives of four cosmonauts. No deaths have occurred on Soyuz missions since 1971, and none with the current design of the Soyuz. Including the early Soyuz design, the average deaths per launched crew member on Soyuz are currently under two percent. However, there have also been several serious injuries, and some other incidents in which crews nearly died.

Non-fatal incidents during spaceflight

Apart from actual disasters, a number of missions resulted in some very near misses and also some training accidents that nearly resulted in deaths. In-flight near misses have included various reentry mishaps (in particular on Soyuz 5), the sinking of the Mercury 4 capsule, and the Voskhod 2 crew spending a night in dense forest surrounded by wolves.

  • 1961 April 12: separation failure: During the flight of Vostok 1, after retrofire, the Vostok service module unexpectedly remained attached to the reentry module by a bundle of wires. The two halves of the craft were supposed to separate ten seconds after retrofire. But they did not separate until 10 minutes after retrofire, when the wire bundle finally burned through. The spacecraft had gone through wild gyrations at the beginning of reentry, before the wires burned through and the reentry module settled into the proper reentry attitude.[35]
  • 1961 July 21: landing capsule sank in water: After Liberty Bell 7 splashed down in the Atlantic, the hatch malfunctioned and blew, filling the capsule with water and almost drowning Gus Grissom, who managed to escape before it sank. Grissom then had to deal with a spacesuit that was rapidly filling with water, but managed to get into the helicopter's retrieval collar and was lifted to safety.[36]
  • 1965 March 18: spacesuit or airlock design fault: Voskhod 2 featured the world's first spacewalk, by Alexei Leonov. After his twelve minutes outside, Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum to the point where he could not reenter the airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off, and was barely able to get back inside the capsule after suffering slight effects of the bends.
  • 1966 March 17: equipment failure: Gemini 8: A maneuvering thruster refused to shut down and put their capsule into an uncontrolled spin. The g-force became so intense that astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott were possibly within seconds of blacking out when they regained control.[37]
  • 1969 January 18: separation failure: the Soyuz 5 had a harrowing reentry and landing when the capsule's service module initially refused to separate, causing the spacecraft to begin reentry faced the wrong way. The service module broke away before the capsule would have been destroyed, and so it made a rough but survivable landing far off course in the Ural mountains.
  • 1969 Nov 14 : Struck twice by lightning during launch  : Astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon experienced two lightning strikes during the launch of the Apollo 12 moon landing mission. The first strike, at 36 seconds after liftoff, knocked the three fuel cells offline and the craft switched to battery power automatically. The second strike at 52 seconds after liftoff, knocked the onboard 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. Fuel cell power was restored about four minutes later. The astronauts spent additional time in earth orbit to make sure the spacecraft was functional before firing their S-IVB third stage engine and departing for the moon.[38][39]
  • 1969, Nov 24 : Struck by camera during splashdown : Astronaut Alan Bean was struck above the right eyebrow by a 16mm movie camera when the Apollo 12 spacecraft splashed down in the ocean. The camera broke free from its stowage place. Bean suffered a concussion[citation needed], and a 1.25 cm cut above the eyebrow that required stitches.[40]
  • 1970, Apr 11 : Premature engine shutdown : During the launch of Apollo 13, its Saturn V second stage suffered a premature shut down on one of its five engines. The center engine shut down two minutes early. The remaining engines on the second and third stages were burned a total of 34 seconds longer. It was later determined that the shut down was caused by pogo vibrations of the rocket. Had the pogo continued, however, it could have torn the Saturn V apart.[41][42][43]
  • 1970 April 13: equipment failure: In the most celebrated "near miss," the Apollo 13 crew came home safely after a violent rupture of a liquid oxygen tank[44] deprived the Service Module of its ability to produce electrical power, crippling their spacecraft en route to the moon. They survived the loss of use of their command ship by relying on the Lunar Module as a "life boat" to provide life support and power for the trip home.[45]
  • 1971, Aug 7 : One of three main parachutes failed : During descent, the three main parachutes of Apollo 15 opened successfully. However, when the remaining reaction control system fuel was jettisoned, one parachute was damaged by the discarded fuel causing it to collapse. The Apollo 15 and its crew still splashed down safely, at a slightly higher than normal velocity, on the two remaining main parachutes. If a second parachute had failed, the spacecraft would probably have been crushed on impact with the ocean, according to a NASA official.[46]
  • 1975 April 5: separation failure: The Soyuz 18a mission nearly ended in disaster when the rocket suffered a second-stage separation failure during launch. This also interrupted the craft's attitude, causing the vehicle to accelerate towards the Earth and triggering an emergency reentry sequence. Due to the downward acceleration, the crew experienced an acceleration of 21.3 g rather than the nominal 15 g for an abort. Upon landing, the vehicle rolled down a hill and stopped just short of a high cliff. The crew survived, but Lazarev, the mission commander, suffered internal injuries due to the severe G-forces and was never able to fly again.
  • 1975 July 24: gas poisoning on board: During final descent and parachute deployment for the Apollo Soyuz Test Project Command Module, the U.S. crew were exposed to 300 µL/L of toxic nitrogen tetroxide gas (Reaction Control System oxidizer) venting from the spacecraft and reentering a cabin air intake. A switch was left in the wrong position. 400µL/L is fatal. Vance Brand's heart stopped and he was narrowly resuscitated.[citation needed] The crew members suffered from burning sensations of their eyes, faces, noses, throats and lungs. Thomas Stafford quickly broke out emergency oxygen masks and put one on Brand and gave one to Deke Slayton. The crew were exposed to the toxic gas from 24,000 ft (7.3 km) down to landing. About an hour after landing the crew developed chemical-induced pneumonia and their lungs had edema. They experienced shortness of breath and were hospitalized in Hawaii. The crew spent two weeks in the hospital. By July 30, their chest X-rays appeared to return to normal.[47]
  • 1976 October 16: landing capsule sank in water: The Soyuz 23 capsule broke through the surface of a frozen lake and was dragged underwater by its parachute. The crew was saved after a very difficult rescue operation.[48]
  • 1981 Apr 12 : Columbia STS-1 - Unexpectedly high SRB ignition shock wave overpressure reached design limits of orbiter structure : Solid Rocket Booster ignition shock wave overpressure was four times greater than expected (2.0 psi measured vs 0.5 psi predicted) on STS-1. Some of the Columbia Space Shuttle Orbiter aft structures reached their design limits (2.0 psi) from the overpressure. The overpressure bent four struts that supported two RCS fuel tanks in the nose of Columbia and the locked elevon control flap on the wing was pushed up and down 6 inches by the shock wave. John Young and Robert Crippen in the crew cabin received a 3g jolt from the shock wave. A water spray shock wave damping system had to be installed on the launch pad prior to the STS-2 launch.[49][50][51][52]
  • 1983 September 26: fire in launch vehicle: A Soyuz crew was saved by their escape system when the rocket that was to carry their Soyuz T-10-1 mission into space caught fire on the launchpad.
  • 1983 Dec 8 : leaked APU hydrazine fuel fire and explosion : In the last two minutes of the Columbia STS-9 mission, during the final approach to the Edwards AFB runway, hydrazine fuel leaked onto two of the three onboard APU's (auxiliary power units) hot surfaces in the aft compartment of the shuttle and caught fire. About 15 minutes after landing, hydrazine fuel trapped in APU control valves exploded, destroying the valves in both APU's. The fire also damaged nearby wiring. The fire stopped when the supply of leaked fuel was exhausted. All of this was discovered the next day when technicians removed a shuttle rear panel and discovered the area blackened and scorched. It is believed that hydrazine leaked in orbit and froze, stopping the leak. After returning, the leak restarted and ignited when combined with oxygen from the atmosphere. There were no injuries during the incident.[53][54]
  • 1985 July 29: STS-51-F: Space Shuttle in-flight engine failure: Five minutes, 45 seconds into ascent, one of three shuttle main engines aboard Challenger shut down prematurely due to a spurious high temperature reading. At about the same time, a second main engine almost shut down from a similar problem, but this was observed and inhibited by a fast acting flight controller. The failed SSME resulted in an Abort To Orbit (ATO) trajectory, whereby the shuttle achieves a lower than planned orbital altitude. Had the second engine failed within about 20 seconds of the first, a Transatlantic Landing (TAL) abort might have been necessary. (No bailout option existed until after mission STS-51-L (Challenger disaster), but even today a bailout—a "contingency abort", would never be considered when an "intact abort" option exists, and after five minutes of normal flight it would always exist unless a serious flight control failure or some other major problem beyond engine shutdown occurred.[55])[56]
  • 1988 September 6: sensor failure: At the end of Mir EP-3, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Lyakhov and Afghan cosmonaut Abdul Ahad Mohmand undocked from Mir in the spacecraft Soyuz TM-5. During descent they suffered a computer software problem combined with a sensor problem. The deorbit engine on the TM-5 spacecraft which was to propel them into atmospheric reentry, did not behave as expected. During an attempted burn, the computer shut off the engines prematurely, believing the spacecraft was out of alignment.[57] Lyakhov determined that they were not, in fact, out of alignment, and asserted that the problem was caused by conflicting signals picked up by the alignment sensors caused by solar glare.[57] With the problem apparently solved, two orbits later he restarted to deorbit engines. But the engines shut off again. The flight director decided that they would have to remain in orbit an extra day (a full revolution of the Earth), so they could determine what the problem was. During this time it was realised that during the second attempted engine burn, the computer had tried to execute the program which was used to dock with Mir several months earlier during EP-2.[57] After reprogramming the computer, the next attempt was successful, and the crew safely landed on 7 September.[58]
  • 1991 April 8: STS-37: spacesuit puncture: During an extravehicular activity on STS-37, a small rod (palm bar) in a glove of EV2 astronaut Jay Apt's extravehicular mobility unit punctured the suit. Somehow, the astronaut's hand conformed to the puncture and sealed it, preventing any detectable depressurization.[59] During postflight debriefings Apt said after the second EVA, when he removed the gloves, his right hand index finger had an abrasion behind the knuckle. A postflight inspection of the right hand glove found the palm bar of the glove penetrating a restraint and glove bladder into the index finger side of the glove. NASA found air leakage with the bar in place was 3.8 sccm vs a specification of 8.0 sccm. They said if the bar had come out of the hole, the leak still would not have been great enough to activate the secondary oxygen pack. The suit would, however, have shown a high oxygen rate indication.[60]
  • 1993 Sep 12 : explosive release device punctures cargo bay bulkhead : Aboard shuttle Discovery, during the STS-51 mission, while releasing the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite from the cargo bay, both the primary and backup explosive release devices detonated. Only the primary device was supposed to have detonated. Large metal bands holding the satellite in place were ripped away causing flying debris. The debris punctured the shuttle cargo bay bulkhead leading to the main engine compartment, damaging wiring trays and payload bay thermal insulation blankets. The puncture in the bulkhead was 3 mm by 13 mm in size. The crew was uninjured and the damage was not great enough to endanger the shuttle. The satellite was undamaged.[61]
  • 1995 May 18 : eye injury from Mir exercise equipment : While exercising on the Mir EO-18/NASA 1/Soyuz TM-21 mission, astronaut Norman E. Thagard suffered an eye injury. He was using an exercise device, doing deep knee bends, with elastic straps. One of the straps slipped off of his foot, flew up, and hit him in the eye. Later, even a small amount of light caused pain in his eye. He said using the eye was, "like looking at the world through gauze." An ophthalmologist at Mission Control-Moscow prescribed steroid drops and the eye healed.[62]
  • 1997 February 23: fire on board: There was a fire on board the Mir space station when a lithium perchlorate canister used to generate oxygen leaked. The fire was extinguished after about 90 seconds, but smoke did not clear for several minutes.
  • 1997 June 25: collision in space: At Mir during a re-docking test with the Progress-M 34 cargo freighter, the Progress freighter collided with the Spektr module and solar arrays of the Mir space station. This damaged the solar arrays and the collision punctured a hole in the Spektr module and the space station began depressurizing. The onboard crew of two Russians and one visiting NASA astronaut were able to close off the Spektr module from the rest of Mir after quickly cutting cables and hoses blocking hatch closure.
  • 1999 July 23: STS-93: main engine electrical short and hydrogen leak: Five seconds after liftoff, an electrical short knocked out controllers for two shuttle main engines. The engines automatically switched to their backup controllers. Had a further short shut down two engines, Columbia would have ditched in the ocean, although the crew could have possibly bailed out. Concurrently a pin came loose inside one engine and ruptured a cooling line, allowing a hydrogen fuel leak. This caused premature fuel exhaustion, but the vehicle safely achieved a slightly lower orbit. Had the failure propagated further, a risky transatlantic or RTLS abort would have been required.
  • 2001 Feb 10 : STS-98 / ISS - toxic ammonia leak during EVA : During EVA 1 on the Atlantis STS-98 mission, NASA astronauts Robert L. Curbeam and Thomas D. Jones were connecting cooling lines on the International Space Station while working to install the Destiny Laboratory Module. A defective quick-disconnect valve allowed 5% of the ammonia cooling supply to escape into space. The escaping ammonia froze on the spacesuit of astronaut Curbeam as he struggled to close the valve. His helmet and suit were coated in toxic ammonia crystals an inch thick. Mission Control instructed Curbeam to remain outside for an entire orbit to allow the Sun to evaporate the frozen ammonia from his spacesuit. When they returned to the airlock, the astronauts pressurized, vented and then repressurized the air lock to purge any remaining toxic ammonia. After they removed their spacesuits, the crew wore oxygen masks for another 20 minutes to allow life-support systems in the airlock to further filter the air. No injuries resulted from the incident. [63]
  • 2003 May 3: ballistic reentry, injured shoulder: The Soyuz TMA-1 capsule had a malfunction during its return to Earth from the ISS Expedition 6 mission and performed a ballistic reentry. The crew was subjected to about 8 to 9 G's during reentry. The capsule landed 500 km from the intended landing target. In addition, after landing the capsule was dragged about 15 meters by its parachute and ended up on its side in a hard landing. Astronaut Don Pettit injured his shoulder and was placed on a stretcher in a rescue helicopter and did not take part in post-landing ceremonies.[64][65][66]
  • 2004 Sep 29 : 29 unplanned rolls during ascent : While piloting SpaceShipOne on suborbital flight 16P, the first of two flights that won the X-Prize for exceeding 100 km in altitude, astronaut Mike Melvill experienced 29 unplanned rolls during and after powered ascent. The rolls began at 50 seconds into the engine burn. The burn was stopped 11 seconds early after burning a total of 76 seconds. After engine cutoff, the craft continued rolling while coasting to apogee. The roll was finally brought under control after apogee using the crafts reaction jets. SpaceShipOne landed safely and Mike Melvill was uninjured.[67][68]
  • 2008 April 19: Soyuz TMA-11 suffered a reentry mishap similar to that suffered by Soyuz 5 in 1969. The service module failed to completely separate from the reentry vehicle and caused it to face the wrong way during the early portion of aerobraking. As with Soyuz 5, the service module eventually separated and the reentry vehicle completed a rough but survivable landing. Following the Russian news agency Interfax's report, this was widely reported as life-threatening[69][70] while NASA urged caution pending an investigation of the vehicle.[71] South Korean astronaut Yi So-Yeon was hospitalized after her return to South Korea due to injuries caused by the rough return voyage in the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft. The South Korean Science Ministry said that the astronaut had a minor injury to her neck muscles and had bruised her spinal column.[72]

Non-fatal incidents during training

Non-astronaut fatalities

Fatalities caused by rocket explosions

Date Place Death(s) Rocket Description
May 17, 1930 Berlin, Germany 1 Max Valier killed by rocket engine explosion.[73]
Feb 2, 1931 Mount Redoria near Milan, Italy 1 A liquid fueled, 132-pound meteorological rocket, that was constructed by American physicist, Dr. Darwin Lyon, exploded during tests, killing a mechanic and injuring three others. Dr. Lyon was not present when the explosion occurred.[74]
October 10, 1933 Germany 3 Explosion in rocket manufacturing room of Reinhold Tiling[75]
July 16, 1934 Kummersdorf, Germany 3 Ground test engine explosion
1944? Tuchola Forest, German-occupied Poland 7 A4-rocket An A4-rocket crashes at a test launch in a trench. Several soldiers who were in the trench were killed.
Oct 24, 1960 Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakh SSR 74 R-16 missile The Nedelin catastrophe.[76]
April 14, 1964 Cape Canaveral, USA 3 Delta rocket The third stage of a Delta rocket had just been joined to the Orbiting Solar Observatory satellite in the spin test facility building at Cape Kennedy. Eleven workers were in the room when the 205 kg of solid fuel in the third stage ignited. Sidney Dangle, 29; Lot D. Gabel, 51, and John Fassett, 30, were severely burned and later died of their injuries. Eight others were injured, but survived. The ignition was caused by a spark of static electricity.[77][78][79]
May 7, 1964 Braunlage, West Germany 3 Mail rocket Mail rocket built by Gerhard Zucker exploded and debris hit crowd of spectators.[80]
June 26, 1973 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, USSR 9 Kosmos-3M launch vehicle Launch explosion of Kosmos-3M rocket
March 18, 1980 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, USSR 48 Vostok-2M launch vehicle Explosion while fueling up a Vostok-2M rocket[81]
September 7, 1990 Edwards AFB, CA United States 1 Titan 4 A Titan 4 launch vehicle solid rocket booster was being hoisted by a crane into a rocket test stand at Edwards AFB, California. The bottom section of the booster broke free, hit the ground and ignited. One person, Alan M. Quimby, 27, a civilian employee of Wyle Laboratories, was killed and 9 others were injured in the accident.[82][83]
August 9, 1991 Komaki, Aichi, Japan 1 H-II launch vehicle Engineer Arihiro Kanaya, 23, was conducting a high pressure endurance test on a pipe used in the first stage rocket engine of the H-2 (H-II) launch vehicle when it exploded. The explosion caused a 14 cm thick door in the testing room to fall on Kanaya and fracture his skull, killing him. The accident happened at the Nagoya Guidance and Propulsion Systems Works Of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Komaki, Aichi, Japan.[84]
February 27, 1993 Esrange, Sweden 1 A technician from Sweden was killed when a sounding rocket ignited during testing of its ignition system at the European Sounding Rocket Range (Esrange), located outside the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden.[85]
January 26, 1995 Xichang, China 6+ Long March rocket Long March rocket veered off course after launch [1]
February 15, 1996 Xichang, China 6-100 Long March rocket Intelsat 708 Satellite, a Long March rocket, veered off course immediately after launch, crashing in the nearby village only 22 seconds later. and destroying 80 houses. According to official Chinese reports there were 6 fatalities resulting from the incident, but other accounts estimated 100 fatalities.[86]
October 15, 2002 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia 1 Soyuz-U A Soyuz-U exploded 29 seconds after launch, killing a soldier, Ivan Marchenko, and injuring 8 others. Fragments of the rocket started a forest fire nearby, and a Block D strap-on booster caused damage to the launchpad.[87]
August 22, 2003 Alcântara, Brazil 21 VLS-3 Explosion of an unmanned rocket during launch preparations (see Brazilian rocket explosion)[88]
July 26, 2007 Mojave Spaceport, California 3 Explosion during a test of rocket systems by Scaled Composites during a nitrous oxide injector test[89]

Other non-astronaut fatalities

Date Place Death(s) Associated Spacecraft Description
May 16, 1968 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 Saturn V Pad worker William B. Bates, 46, was killed while hooking up a 20-cm high pressure water line to the mobile service structure on Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A. When he loosened the cap, which should not have been pressurized, it blew off with 180 psi pressure, striking him in the chest, killing him.[90][91]
March 19, 1981 Cape Canaveral, USA 3 STS-1 Anoxia due to nitrogen atmosphere in the aft engine compartment of Columbia during preparations for STS-1. Five workers were involved in the incident and three died. John Bjornstad died at the scene. Forrest Cole and Nick Mullon died later from injuries sustained in the incident.[92][93][94][95]
May 5, 1981 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 STS-2 Construction worker Anthony E. Hill, 22, fell more than 30 meters to his death from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39B service structure. Workers were preparing LC-39B for a planned September 1981 launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia.[91]
December 4, 1985 Vandenberg AFB, USA 1 Space Shuttle Carl Reich, 49, of Lompoc, CA, an iron worker who was employeed by Hensel Phelps Construction of Greely, CO, fell 18 stories to his death from the mobile service structure of the SLC-6 Space Shuttle launch complex. Mr. Reich was bolting a platform onto the structure. Workers were putting finishing touches on the Vandenberg AFB Space Shuttle launch complex.[96][97]
December 22, 1989 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 Atlas-Centaur A worker refurbishing the 11th level of the Cape Canaveral, Atlas-Centaur Launch Complex 36B launch tower, was killed when an air hose he was using was caught by the pad elevator. The hose wrapped around the worker and pulled him into the elevator shaft, crushing and killing him. The pad was being refurbished for commercial satellite launches by General Dynamics starting in 1990.[98]
May 5, 1995 Guiana Space Centre, French Guyana 2 Anoxia; The new Ariane-5 launch area and Ariane-5 cryogenic M1 main stage were undergoing testing. Technicians Luc Celle and Jean-Claude Dhainaut died during an inspection within the umbilical mast of the launchpad. The cause of death was inhalation of air having a very low oxygen content. There was a reduced oxygen content because of a major nitrogen leak in the confined area of the umbilical mast. The nitrogen leak was caused due to a missing drainage plug in a nitrogen/iced water exchanger.[99][100]
July 8, 2001 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 A worker suffered fatal injuries near Launch Complex 37 while disconnecting a coupling on a temporary pipe used to purge a liquid oxygen system. An unexpected build up of pressure caused the coupling to break loose and the employee was struck in the head. He died a short time later.[101] This accident is also mentioned in reference article to crane accident listed below.[102]
October 1, 2001 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 Crane operator Bill Brooks was killed in an industrial accident at Launch Complex 37[103]
May 12, 2002 Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan 8 Workers repairing the roof of the Baikonur Cosmodrome N-1/Energia vehicle assembly building died when the roof suffered a total structural collapse. The Space Shuttle Buran was destroyed in this collapse. The roof crashed 80 meters to the ground. The bodies of 8 workers were later found in the debris.[104]
Mar 14, 2011 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 STS-134 James Vanover, an engineer for United Space Alliance fell to his death from the Kennedy Space Center LC-39A launch pad while preparing the STS-134 mission for its April 2011 scheduled launch.[105]

See also


  1. ^ p.143,[2]
  2. ^ p.143,[2]


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