Died in Space

By | Jan 27, 2010

The American Space mission that is known as Apollo 1 ended tragically with the death of three men; Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. During a test and training exercise a fire ignited in the command module on top a Saturn IB rocket. Without an escape hatch on the capsule the three men never had a chance. These were the first Americans who lost their lives in the Space Program.

The next Americans to die was the Challenger crew. On Jan. 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. All seven member of the crew died on that day. Six of these were astronauts. Francis “Dick” Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair and Gregory B. Jarvis. Also on board that flight was Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was intended to be the first teacher in space.

The last shuttle accident was on Feb. 1, 2003. On re-entry the space shuttle Columbia broke apart in flames about 203,000 feet over Texas. This was 16 minutes before it was supposed to touch down in Florida. All seven aboard were killed: William McCool, Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon, who was Israel’s first astronaut.

During a training accident on March 23, 1961, Valentin Bondarenko became the first space-related casualty. He was training in a special low-pressure chamber with a pure oxygen atmosphere when he accidentally dropped an alcohol-soaked cloth onto an electric hotplate. The resulting fire quickly engulfed the chamber. Bondarenko, barely alive when the chamber was opened, died of his burns a short time later.

The next Russian cosmonaut to be killed was on April 24, 1967. Vladimir Komarov was killed when his Soyuz I spacecraft crashed on return to Earth.

Technically none of these died in space. They all died within the Earth’s atmosphere, either on the ground, during take-off or re-entry. The beginning of space is defined at 100km and the only ones to die above this height was the three member crew of Soyuz 11 on June 30 1971. Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev were preparing for re-entry when their cabin depressurized at an altitude of 168km. Their vessel returned to earth but upon opening the capsule the men were discovered dead.


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