Today is International Day of Human Space Flight. Yesterday, actually — I missed April 12th by 57 seconds.
This post was supposed to be brief and humorous, but came out quite different in the end.
When I was a child, growing in the Soviet Union, the boys dreamt of becoming cosmonauts, like Yuri Gagarin. After the first woman conquered the space, many girls, too, started dreaming the same dream. Not me, though. The woman-cosmonaut’s name was Valentina Tereshkova. Nice. My namesake.
As I checked a few dates and facts about cosmonauts, astronauts and space missions, the humor suddenly felt inappropriate. Because April 12th is a day to remember those astronauts and cosmonauts who perished while on the mission.
Here are only 2 of many missions, one American, another Soviet, which went wrong and ended up in disaster.
The Soviets were first in space exploration. First man cosmonaut, first woman in space…
USA geared up the effort — competition can do it to the country! — and by 1967, America forged ahead and appeared to lead in the race for the moon. Mercury and Gemini programs were astounding success. The journey to the moon aboard the manned spacecraft seemed within the grasp. The political pressure was intense, and a decision had been made to skip the unmanned testing.
Late on the morning of January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were sealed into Spacecraft 012 for a full dress rehearsal with 100 per cent oxygen. The planned program was to include every step except fueling and launch.
The test was plagued with technical difficulties…
Unknown to astronauts and ground controllers, the insulation had worn from a wire underneath the seat of the spacecraft commander. The wire sparked and caused the oxygen soaked materials inside the spacecraft to explode in a wall of flame. Hampered by a hatch that required ninety seconds to open, the crew was unable to escape the fire and died within seconds. (Space Accidents)
The cosmonauts Viktor Patsayev, Georgi Dobrovolsky, and Vladislav Volkov were the crew of Soyuz 11. It was launched on the 6th of June, 1971, and docked Salyut 1 space station the following day. This mission mark the first time a space station was manned.
The spacecraft landed successfully, but the recovery teams found all three cosmonauts dead…
As a result of this accident, all subsequent Soyuz crews have worn pressure suits during launch, re-entry, and docking activities. The Soviet Union did not return any crews to Salyut 1 and it was more than two years before they attempted another manned mission. The accident was a stunning blow to both the Soviet Union and the international aerospace community. The experimental and risky nature of man’s venture into space had been made clear. (Space Accidents)