January 27, 1967
Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, commander
Edward H. White II,
Roger Chaffee, pilot
During preflight testing, in which the launch countdown was
simulated while the three astronauts, fully suited, were sealed in the spacecraft, a fire started in the command module, probably
beneath the commander's seat. The fire spread rapidly due to the 100% oxygen that pressurized the cabin, and the astronauts
were unable to evacuate in time. They probably succumbed to the deadly fumes less than thirty seconds after the first
call of "Fire!" from one of the astronauts. The mission was given the honorific "Apollo 1" only after the tragic accident.
April 23-24, 1967
Vladimir M. Komarov
The Soyuz 1 capsule experienced a multitude of problems in
orbit, including the loss of some thrusters, and a decision was made to end the mission ahead of schedule. Soyuz was
also experiencing orientation difficulties, and it looked as though the capsule would not survive the fiery reentry into Earth's
atmosphere. Ironically, the capsule made it through the reentry without disintegrating, but the ship was out of control
and spinning wildly, and the main parachute's lines became tangled. The reserve chute, when deployed, entangled with
the main chute. The capsule hit the ground at better than 400 m.p.h. and burst into flames; Komarov was killed.
He was 40 years old.
SOYUZ 11 (Salyut 1)
June 29, 1971
Georgi T. Dobrovolsky
Vladislav N. Volkov
Viktor I. Patsayev
Launched on June 6, 1971, Soyuz 11 fulfilled mission expectations
satisfactorily, if imperfectly. Upon reentry, however, a pressure equalization valve opened prematurely, depressurizing
the cabin and suffocating the crew, none of whom were wearing pressure suits. Dobrovolsky had just turned 43 years old,
ironically on the day of the launch; Volkov was 35, and Patsayev had celebrated his 38th birthday in space on June 19.
years elapsed between the loss of two cosmonauts during the reentry of Soyuz II and the tragic explosion of Space Shuttle
Challenger in 1986. The latter was probably even more deeply felt than any space tragedy had been before then, due to
the fact that Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, was on board and died before ever getting a chance to experience outer space.
Challenger flight 51-L
January 28, 1986
Francis R. Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
A. Resnik, Mission Specialist 1
Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist 3
B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist 1
Sharon "Christa" McAuliffe, Payload Specialist 2
Seventy-three seconds after liftoff, at an altitude of 46,000
feet and a distance of of 18 miles downrange, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven aboard.
Columbia flight STS-107
Launch: January 16, 2003
Rick Husband, commander
Willie McCool, pilot
David Brown, mission specialist
Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist
Michael Anderson, payload commander
Clark, mission specialist
Ilan Ramon, payload specialist, Israel Space Agency
After a successful 16-day mission in space, the Space Shuttle
Columbia was on its way back to Earth, scheduled for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center at 9:15 a.m. Eastern time.
The craft disintegrated during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, approximately 150 nautical miles high, killing all seven
Click here for my tribute to the Columbia seven