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Space Disasters and Tragedies

The Dangers of Space Exploration


Space Disasters and Tragedies - Apollo 1 Capsule After Fire

Space Disasters and Tragedies - Apollo 1 Capsule After Fire

An old Chinese proverb says, "When you see what is right, have the courage to do it." Dr. Laurel Clark, who was lost aboard the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 said, "To me, there's a lot of different things that we do during life that could potentially harm us, and I choose not to stop doing those things."

In all of human endeavor, there is danger. It is not possible to completely avoid risk. Even if you choose to hide in your home, some danger still exists. To live is to risk, but there are those, particularly those who work for the betterment of mankind, who risk more than others. From the fire and police officials who entered two buildings struck by terrorists in New York to the seven members of the space shuttle Columbia crew, exploring the final frontier.

Without risk, we remain in our caves, never daring to see what lies beyond our immediate sight. As President Bush said, "Some explorers do not return, and the loss settles unfairly on a few."

The exploration of space is fraught with peril. Since we first started putting humans into space, there have been accidents, and people have died. However, as time and tragedy has shown us, dangers still exist today. We mourn those who have lost their lives here with our Astronaut – Cosmonaut Memorial. Let’s take a closer look at these tragedies and those we have lost.

Early Disasters

The first tragedy to strike the fledgling space endeavor didn’t even make it into space. The Apollo/Saturn 204 (later known as Apollo 1) mission was performing tests on the launch pad when a fire broke out, killing all three crewmembers. You can read more about the Apollo 1 tragedy.

The first loss of life for the USSR occurred later that same year. After taking an early lead in the space race by launching Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, the first man made object in space, the Soviets held their lead by launching a living creature into space, Laika, a dog, aboard the Sputnik 2 in 1957. Next, they launched the first human as Yuri Gagarin took off on April 12, 1961 aboard the Vostok 1, beating the Americans by a scant 23 days. After a few more shots at one-upmanship, it was time to turn their eyes to the big prize, the moon. On April 23, 1967 the Soyuz 1 took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying a single cosmonaut. Troubles began almost immediately, and the sole crewmember perished. You can read more about the Soyuz 1 tragedy.

After losing the race for the moon, with the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon on July 20, 1969, the Soviets turned their attention in another direction, towards constructing space stations, a task they became quite good at, but not without problems. The second crew of the first space station, Salyut 1, launched aboard Soyuz 11 on June 6, 1971. After problems aboard Salyut 1 shortened the mission from 30 days to 24 days, the crew attempted to return home. They never made it alive. You can read more about the Soyuz 11 tragedy.

New Technology Brings New Dangers

One thing made space shuttle mission STS-51L different. It was scheduled to be the first flight of a new program called TISP, the Teacher In Space Program. The Space Shuttle Challenger was scheduled to carry Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to fly in space. After several delays, Challenger finally lifted off on on January 28, 1986. Seventy three seconds into the mission, the Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew. You can read more about the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.

The day started on a bright note for the crew of space shuttle mission STS-107. They were awakened aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia by a rousing rendition of Scotland the Brave in honor of mission specialist Laurel Clark’s Scottish heritage. Mission Control followed the wake-up tune with news the astronauts had been waiting for. It was time to come home. It was the end of a highly successful 16 day mission of scientific experimentation, the first shuttle mission in two years that did not visit the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope. As Columbia was making final preparations for landing, their families were journeying to Kennedy Space Center to watch their loved ones’ homecoming. They never got to see them alive again. You can read more about the Space Shuttle Columbia tregedy.

As FLUX1370 says in our forum, “Space is a frontier, hostile and inhospitable like no other, and while it behooves us to be as cautious as possible without crippling ourselves in order to minimize fatalities, we must accept that some deaths will happen.”

But, we still mourn those who are lost, and we must learn from these losses to prevent, or at least minimize, future deaths. While every death does diminish us, many times they are also part of what makes humanity what it is.

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