The exploration of space has claimed the lives of 15 men and women. On January 27, 1967, three American astronauts, Virgil Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee, were strapped into a capsule atop a rocket for a takeoff simulation.
At 6:31 P.M., a frantic voice cried out that a fire had started in the capsule. Within seconds, the fire spread, fueled by the highly flammable pure oxygen pumped into the capsule. The heat was so intense that fire crews took five minutes to break open the capsule. But by then, the three astronauts were dead.
Another major American space disaster occurred in 1986 on the space shuttle Challenger. Rockets thundering, the space shuttle soared nine miles into the atmosphere. But 73 seconds into the flight, a devastating explosion shattered the space- craft and sent it hurtling to the earth. An investigation later found that synthetic rubber seals between the sections of the fuel tank had failed. Burning fuel had leaked through
the gap, causing the explosion. Seven astronauts were killed, including the first civilian, Christa McAuliffe.
The Soviet Union has also suffered from accidents. In 1967, Vladimir Komarov blasted into space. But the ship tumbled, caus-ing the parachutes to tangle. When Komarov streaked toward Earth, the parachutes failed to open, and the ship slammed to the ground, killing him.
In another disaster, three Soviet cosmonauts completed 23 days of experiments in space in 1971. When they landed on Earth, a faulty hatch exploded open. The sudden decompression killed all three instantly.