“Space Disasters” by Elaine Landau

The book I chose is Space Disasters by Elaine Landau. It discusses the Apollo Missions. The Challenger Flight, and the men and women who were involved in space exploration. These early missions taught experts alot about what we should and should not do when sending people into space. It took us tragedies to get here, but now we can make sure they don’t happen again. IN my essay, I am going to go in depth on the topics presented in Space Disasters.

The Apollo Space Program was first introduced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, in 1960. They introduced it at a conference, which made it a big spectacle to the public’s eye. Their main goal: to put an astronaut on the moon by the year 1970. John F. Kennedy, who was the president at the time, “… was determined to see the program become a reality.” (Page 7) And his support definitely helped to make it one. Just one year after NASA announced the Apollo Space Program, the first manned spacecraft was sent into space by the Soviet Union, which was a big step in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. NASA was compelled to win this space race by getting a man on the moon.

Preparations for Apollo 1 began on January 27, 1967, when the crew began training. Three astronauts were chosen. The first was Chief Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom. He was the oldest of the three and was formerly a Air Force combat flyer. NASA reported him to be a “very astute engineer with catlike reflexes.” (Page 9) The second member was Roger B. Chaffee. He was the only member of the crew to never have been in space. The third member was Edward H. White II. He was a graduate of West Point and the son of a retired army general. His career began flying U.S. army balloons, but he was most known for being the first American ever to walk in space. As part of their training, the three men took part in a practice launch that first morning. The men were suited up and sealed in the spacecraft that was atop the Saturn 1 rocket. They were delivered oxygen to their suits and the oxygen in the cabins air was purified by a control system. However, this pure oxygen was highly flammable and combustible. After 5 hours of the astronauts being inside, a fire broke out. Technicians outside, “…witnessed a blinding flash of light from within the capsule.” (Page 11) And seconds later huge clouds of thick smoke leaked out of the spacecraft. The men were not able to escape and all three died. Engineers later determined that the temperature in the cabin rose several thousand degrees, which melted their nylon suits. These men became the first to die inside a spacecraft. This gave people a reason to doubt the space program, NASA wanted to try a fix their mistakes and try again. This choice proved to be rewarding, because on July 20, 1969 American Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.

The space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union lasted throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, the space race involved many other world powers as well, but the Soviet Union was our most competitive opponent. Their first space disaster occurred on April 23, 1967, just months after three astronauts died in Apollo 1. The Soviet Union’s spaceship named Soyuz 1 exploded, killing its pilot inside. His name was Vladimir M. Komarov, and he was a cosmonaut, or Russian astronaut. He was in space and tried to start the process of reentry, but his braking rockets wouldn’t function. The braking rockets are what slow down the spacecraft. They allow it to leave its orbit and enter earth’s atmosphere. Because they didn’t work, he was forced to continue to orbit earth and attempt to fix the problem with the rockets. While he waited, the spacecraft tumbled through space at a very high speed. While the ship was on its 18th orbit, the rocket began to work again, and when Kamarov reached 23,000 feet he deployed the parachute. Sadly, the parachute had become badly tangled and failed to open, causing the space capsule to crash onto the earth. Komarov died on impact according to Soviet sources. However, many critics of the space program strongly believe that Komarov actually died before the spacecraft returned to earth. They also think that the government changed the story to avoid tarnishing the space programs reputation so early. After this tragedy, the Soviet government took a break from launching any spacecrafts, in fear that something like this would happen again. Years later in July 1971, the Soviet Union launched the Soyuz 2 which carried three cosmonauts to the Salyut 1 space station.

The three cosmonauts aboard Soyuz 2 were Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov. They orbited Earth for about 24 days and conducted many scientific experiments. The shuttle returned routinely back to earth on June 29th, 1971. What happens next was completely unexpected. When the shuttle returned, the space recovery team opened the shuttle to get the three men out. They got no response from any of the men. The ground crew went inside only to find the three cosmonauts dead, but still strapped into their seats. This was incredibly shocking and upsetting to the Soviets because days earlier the cosmonauts were alive and well, but now they had mysteriously died. Further investigation showed that the cosmonauts had failed to completely close the shuttles hatch, which caused their oxygen to leak out very slowly.    

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