Technology fails in space are the scariest thing imaginable
Universal Pictures If there’s one thing that scares me, it’s having a mechanical accident/breakdown, somewhere remote, and not being able to fix it or call for help. That idea scares me. So far, I’ve been ok.
Now, imagine that, but out in the middle of space, surrounded by an airless void, and unable to call for help, in a tin can with less technology than the iPhone in your pocket. Now what? You shit frozen bricks in your space suit, that’s what.
These tech fails in the early days of the space race, are far too harrowing to picture, and all the credit goes to the legitimate badass Astronauts and Cosmonauts for bolding going where no one’s gone before.
Wikipedia Gemini 8: Docking Incident – 1966
In March of 1966, Neil Armstrong and David R. Scott were to dock the Gemini 8 with an unmanned target vehicle, to practice the skills needed for the upcoming Apollo missions. They latched onto the target, then their spacecraft started to spin out of control. They had to undock and found themselves spinning once per second, without a way to communicate with anyone from NASA. They were in danger of spinning out into space, without enough fuel to come home.
Eventually, they figured out that a thruster was locked open, so they initiated the landing system and aborted the mission. This was the first critical in-space system failure of a U.S. Spacecraft, that threatened the lives of the astronauts.
NASA Friendship 7: False landing bag indicator – 1962
The Mercury-Atlas 6 was the third ever human spaceflight for the US and positioned astronaut John Glen as the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth. While he was up there, however, some false indicators suggested the he might be in danger. NASA saw a warning that his landing bag had deployed while he was up there. This bag was supposed to help cushion his splashdown during his water landing. Without it, there was a good chance he’d be injured. However, that’s not the scary part.
The landing bag is situated under the heat shield. If the bag had deployed, it meant that the heat shield was loose and/or missing. Officials warned Glen and told him to keep the retrorocket package as an additional piece of protection upon his return.
He made it back safely and it was determined that the blinking light about the bag was a false indicator.
Central Press Voskhod 2: First ever space walk almost ended in disaster – 1965
The first man to ever walk in space was cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. He was part of the first ever batch of Soviet Cosmonauts, and spent 12 minutes, 9 seconds outside his spacecraft, connected only by a tether. As this was the first time, no one, not even he, knew what to expect, or if he’d even survive.
On the way back inside, however, he encountered a problem. Not only was he close to overheating in the suit, the vacuum of space had distorted and inflated it. His hands had slipped outside fo the gloves and his feet weren’t in his boots. Nor was the suit tight against his body anymore. He also, was too large to fit back in through the airlock.
He ended up venting the oxygen out of his suit to make himself slimmer. Once inside, he ejected the inflatable airlock, which sent the craft into a spin and sent oxygen levels inside to extreme levels. Both he and the pilot were close to passing out, and all they needed was a random spark to ignite and they’d be vaporized. Eventually, they got control, and came back to earth.
NASA Apollo 11: Empty fuel tank – 1969
This was the first time that man had ever stepped foot on the moon, and there was a good chance, he never would have stepped off of it. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were looking to place the Eagle spacecraft on the lunar surface, they overshot their landing and Armstrong had to conduct maneuvers to put it on relatively flat ground. According to reports, they only had 30 sec of their ration of landing fuel left, before they would have crashed to the surface, with no way home.
Then, in the lead up to launch back to their support vessel and home, they encountered other technical issues that required severe McGyver-ing to get out of.
NASA Apollo 12: Lightning strike – 1969
Shortly after Apollo 12 launched from the ground into orbit, it was hit by a lightning bolt and it caused the spacecraft to go into a panic mode; all the lights went off, all the warning switches started blinking and the main batteries shut off and the backups kicked in, but didn’t have enough power to control the craft. They were essentially dead stick.
Luckily, someone at Mission Control remembered an obscure work-around that essentially rebooted their system and got them back on track. The rest of the mission to the moon went off without a hitch.
Except, there was one little issue. NASA wasn’t sure if the explosive bolts that fired the parachutes to slow their decent upon reentry and landing would still work, and there was no way to figure it out or test it, so they just didn’t tell the astronauts until after they landed, as not to worry them.
NASA Apollo 13: Oxygen tank explosion – 1970
During a routine stir of the oxygen tanks, the astronauts of Apollo 13 felt their craft shudder around them, and warning lights went off. Due to errors on the ground, an oxygen tank that helped fuel the service module, had exploded, damaging systems and compromising the mission to the moon.
The astronauts had to effect repairs to their carbon dioxide scrubbers with materials on hand, use the Aquarius Lunar Module as their lifeboat/quarters, and survive on minimal heat, water and life support.
They made it back to earth exhausted, but alive.
Wikipedia Soyuz 18: Failed orbit and mountain rescue – 1975
This was one of the few unsuccessful manned launches of a Soyuz craft. The mission was supposed to take two Cosmonauts to the Salyut 4 space station for a 60 day mission. After the rocket had launched, only a few of the locks holding the stages together failed to disengage and the onboard computer aborted the mission before they could reach orbit.
The capsule re-entered the atmosphere with additional weight, overloading the parachutes and causing it to hit the side of a snow covered mountain and roll down towards a 500ft drop. It was only the parachutes snagging on some vegetation, that prevented the deaths of the Cosmonauts.
Unsure if they fell on the Soviet or Chinese side of the boarder, the men had to don their winter gear and await rescue on a precarious cliff, in chest-deep snow.
Gizmodo Mir: The space station fire – 1997
Before we had the ISS, the very first low-orbit station was the Mir, operated by the Soviet Union. While they were switching out chemical oxygen canisters, when one ignited by accident, causing a huge fire that threatened the integrity of the station. The blaze burned for 14 minutes like a giant blowtorch, which wasn’t the scariest part. The fire blocked off the route to a second escape capsule, so if the station needed to be evacuated, only 3 of the 6 astronauts on board could leave.
The crew spent all of the fire extinguishers they had on fighting the fire, and thankfully, no one was injured and the station capsule’s walls weren’t harmed.
The incident helped change the tech and protocols used on space and implemented on the ISS.
Wikipedia Progress M-34: Collided with Mir and nearly destroyed it – 1997
This wasn’t the best year for the space station. During a routine resupply mission, the unmanned cargo spacecraft collided with Mir and caused significant damage. Carrying two new spacesuits, additional fire extinguishers and equipment for Mir’s life support system, it was an important resupply.
It was supposed to be a manual dock, under the control of one of the Cosmonauts, when it damaged the Spektr module and took out a large solar panel. They were able to effect repairs, seal off the module and leave it depressurized for the rest of Mir’s lifespan, but only were able to restore 70% of stations previous power generating capabilities.
As for the cargo, Progress was manoeuvred away from the station, de-orbited and allowed to burn up in reentry
NASa Challenger STS-51F: Abort to orbit – 1985
The Challenger had a rough time in its time in service of NASA. During this mission, it suffered two aborts. The first was at T-3 seconds when a coolant valve in one of the shuttles engines malfunctioned. NASA fixed it and rescheduled the launch for 2 weeks later, and while the shuttle was exiting the earth, the engines shut down prematurely. They had to abort to orbit, meaning the had to take a low flight path and conduct their experiments on the SkyLab quickly and return to Earth.
The following January, Challenger suffered its fatal O-ring explosion and disintegrated after launch.
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