SUBORBITAL FLIGHTS

Related or Recurring event

RESEARCH FACILITY

ATMOSPHERIC FLIGHTS

LAUNCH/GROUND

SR-71

X-15

Soyuz 1

Apollo 1

Soyuz 11

Challenger

Columbia

SpaceShipTwo

THE STORY

ACRONYMS

THE STORY

ACRONYMS

LANDING & POSTLANDING

Loss of Crew

Crew Injury/Illness and/or Loss of Vehicle or Mission

LEGEND

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WHAT IS IT?

Competitive struggles during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union laid the groundwork for advances in high altitude flight, rocketry, and human performance.  Human spaceflight reached its first defining success more than 50 years ago, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth in April 1961.  In November 2000, a multi-national crew moved aboard the International Space Station.  By November 2011, the former Cold War rivals had collaborated to surpass 10 years of continuous presence in space.  Now a new record of continuous space habitation is established daily.  The Significant Incidents and Close Calls in Human Spaceflight chart presents a visual overview of major losses and close calls spanning the history of human spaceflight.  It heightens awareness of the risks that must be managed as human spaceflight continues to advance.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Each box on the chart represents an event.  The events are grouped by flight phase and ordered chronologically within each phase.  Three types of events are highlighted: loss of crew, crew injury, and related or recurring events. Events with one or more crew fatalities are highlighted in red.  Crew injury or illness and/or loss of vehicle or mission is designated by orange shading.  Related or recurring events are set apart by yellow shaded boxes.

WHY DO WE HAVE IT?

The Significant Incidents and Close Calls in Human Spaceflight chart is maintained by NASA Johnson Space Center's Flight Safety Office to raise awareness of lessons learned through the years.  It provides a visible reminder of the risks inherent in human spaceflight and is intended to spark an interest in past events, to inspire people to delve into lessons learned, and to encourage continued vigilance.  Distributing this information as widely as possible will help to ensure the lessons of history are incorporated into new designs, so that future accidents may be prevented.

WHAT IS THE BONDARENKO STORY?

Two fatal events highlight the importance of sharing information.  On March 23, 1961 Soviet cosmonaut Valentin Bondarenko lost his life after being severely burned in an altitude chamber fire.  The incident occurred during a routine training exercise, when Bondarenko attempted to throw an alcohol swab into a waste basket, but hit a hot plate instead.  The oxygen-rich environment quickly ignited.  Rescue efforts were thwarted because internal pressure prevented rescuers from opening the chamber's inwardly swinging hatch for several minutes.  By the time the pressure was released and the hatch could be opened, Bondarenko had been hopelessly burned.  He died hours later.

Six years later, three U.S. astronaut's lives were lost during a test in the Apollo crew module, which contained an oxygen-rich atmosphere.  An electrical short caused a fire that spread quickly throughout the cabin.  Again, rescue efforts were delayed due to the buildup of pressure behind an inwardly opening hatch.  Unlike the Soviet altitude chamber oxygen fire, the crew did not die due to burns from the fire, but from cardiac arrest caused by smoke inhalation.  However, in both the Bondarenko and Apollo events, high levels of oxygen caused the fires to spread rapidly, and pressure against inward-opening hatches slowed rescue efforts.  Neither cabin was equipped with effective fire-suppression equipment.

Information about the Bondarenko incident was not known in the U.S. until 1986 – more than 20 years after it happened.  Would access to this information have led to design changes that could have saved the Apollo astronauts’ lives?  Although that question can never be answered, these events underscore the importance of sharing information and maintaining awareness of past events in the effort to prevent future tragedies.

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NASA Official: Nigel Packham     Infographic Editor: Faisal Ali