March 25, 2023

By Ahmet Abdulaziz….

Humans always dreamed of solving the mysteries of this universe. The first step towards this goal is to go beyond the limits of the earth. Over the years, both USA and the then USSR competed for furthering their goals in this direction.

The initial goal was to go out in space, leaving the gravity of the earth behind. This was successfully achieved when on 12th April 1961, Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut, became the first human in space, by making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft. By that first flight in space, humans had learned how to go out in space.

The next step was to reach moon. On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon. The second goal was so achieved.

Then onward, the scientists are constantly trying to explore space.

But all this has got a price. A price, both in terms of finance and human lives. Yes, over all these years, precious human lives were also lost in these experiments and expeditions. Some of the astronauts and cosmonauts lost their lives. Some of them perished during their training, whereas some lost their lives in space.

When we look at the figures of the human lives lost, we see that the last week of January is always an unforgettable period for NASA. In different years, over the period of just six days, they have recorded three fatal space tragedies.

Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee photo by NASA photographer unknown – NASA Images, Public Domain, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=111185

On January 27, 1967, Apollo 1 suffered a fire. The crew consisting of Gus Grisson, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed in the fire inside the Command Module, during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral. It was the first of major disasters regarding space expedition, and not just the USA but the whole world felt the loss of precious human lives. At that time, some had even raised a voice to stop the space programs, which of course was not considered acceptable.

The next was the Challenger shuttle disaster. Subsequent to the Apollo program NASA had shifted to the Shuttle program. On 28th January 1986, just 73 seconds after the takeoff, the shuttle broke apart, killing all seven crew members aboard. The crew that lost their lives, was made up of :

  • Francis R. Scobee, Flight commander
  • Michael J.Smith, Pilot
  • Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist
  • Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
  • Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist
  • Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist
  • Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Teacher

Subsequent to this particular disaster the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded for nearly three years, during which steps were taken to improve the various safety measures and to re-design the management decision making procedures. Some changes were brought by redesigning the solid rocket booster.

Then bad luck once again hit NASA on 1st February 2003 when the Columbia shuttle broke apart while reentering the orbit of the earth. All seven crew members died in space.

During the launch, a piece of foam insulation had broken off from the external tank of the shuttle and had struck the left wing. At that time the damage was not considered as very serious. However, it had made a small hole and the risk that atmospheric gases might penetrate into the wing of the shuttle.

The risk ultimately became a reality when the Columbia shuttle was

S81-30498 (12 April 1981) — After six years of silence, the thunder of manned spaceflight is heard again, as the successful launch of the first space shuttle ushers in a new concept in utilization of space. The April 12, 1981 launch, at Pad 39A, just seconds past 7 a.m., carries astronaut John Young and Robert Crippen into an Earth-orbital mission scheduled to last for 54 hours, ending with unpowered landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. STS-1, the first in a series of shuttle vehicles planned for the Space Transportation System, utilizes reusable launch and return components. Photo credit: NASA or National Aeronautics and Space Administration

re-entering the orbit on 1st February. The heated gases penetrated into the wing and destroyed the internal wing structure. This unstabled the balance of the shuttle and it broke apart.

Those who lost their lives in this sad incident were.

  • Rick Husband, Commander
  • William C. McCool, Pilot
  • Michael P. Anderson Payload Commander
  • Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist
  • David M. Brown, Mission Specialist
  • Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist
  • Ilan Ramon, Mission specialist

In fact there are many more who lost their lives during space programs, in different parts of the world.

However, it is interesting to note that the dates of the three most fatal accidents of space history had happened to fall within a short span of six days during January and February of different  years.

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