My husband was telling me about the early Russian space program the other day. He said he remembered hearing that the Soviets had attemped a moon landing, and due to a miscalculation, the space craft missed the moon by about a thousand miles. There was nothing the Soviets could do, and the astronauts simply soared off into the emptiness of space, dying when their oxygen supply ran out. Tres horror! I shudder to think of a shuttle filled with a literal skeleton crew floating about in space.
How many ships and astronauts were lost in space during the infancy of the space program? Any suggestions for good books on this subject?
The Soviets never tried to make a moon shot. However, there have been four accidents in the course of the space program that claimed lives of crewmen–not counting Valentine Bondarenko, who died when his simulator caught on fire.
The Apollo 1 spacecraft caught fire on the launchpad, killing the three astronauts inside: Virgil Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee.
The Challenger space shuttle exploded in the atmosphere, killing Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.
In the Soviet program, Vladimir Komarov became the first person to die in the execution of a mission when the Soyuz 1 capsule crashed on re-entry.
The Soyuz 11 cosmonauts were killed in 1971 when a valve opened on re-entry, before they had entered the atmosphere. The oxygen in the cabin was sucked out in about 45 seconds, killing Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov.
Ever been to the Space museum in Texas, the one with the real landing capsules outside?
That place gives full credit to the Russian space program: ½ of one sentence on a caption of a picture of
Sputnik! It’s like they weren’t out front for so many decades. Talk about the winners rewriting history.
Lissa, I read a fiction story in which incidentally to the plot the space crew comes upon a derelict space ship which happens to be the (fictional) long-lost Russian moon mission, stuck in Earth orbit for decades. They get confirmation from the Russians that it was a hushed-up tragedy, and in the end they use a spare booster to shoot the Russians at the moon for a high-speed impact space burial.
I have no idea what the name of the book was, who the author was or what the main plot was, and now it bugs me. So, if anyone recognizes this story…
Soviet plans for a lunar landing were well under way by the mid-1960’s, and as it became readily apparent that the American lunar program was ahead of the Russians, an emergency crash-program was initiated in an attempt to get the USSR to the moon before the end of 1968. Cosmonauts began training at the beginning of that year.
However, the haste of the project made for mistakes in construction, and testing was minimal at best. The first test of the N-1 launcher ended in disaster just one minute into the flight (it was unmanned, but carried a mock-up unit that would have inserted itself into lunar orbit and then return to earth). Soviet designers later joshingly blamed the failure on the rocket’s christening, as the champagne bottle was actually broken against the enormous rocket’s transporter instead of the rocket itself. You would have done the same thing–see below.
A second test shot slipped farther and farther back. Finally, on July 3, 1969, about two weeks before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, the second N-1 lifted a couple of hundred feet, then fell back to earth, exploding with the power of a small atomic bomb. The pad was completely demolished, and took months to repair.
Some conspiracy theorists have claimed that that particular N-1 was manned, citing the successful deployment of the launch escape system just prior to the explosion. No credible witnesses have come forward to confirm this.
Oh, and here’s another tidbit: I ain’t no rocket scientist, but my Pappy is, and one of his favorite sayings is, “it’s not a proper rocket unless it’s got a hunk of wood in it somewhere.” So one day we’re poking around the Air & Space Museum, looking at all the Soviet stuff that the Russians have loaned us. Dad is thoroughly unimpressed–he’s grumbling about the uneven welds on the fuel tanks, the plumber-grade fuel line piping, the poorly insulated wiring. He’s starting to get a little upset that this was the work of the opponent with whom he spent his younger days in such feverish competition.
Finally, we come around a display case to discover a Soviet lunar EVA suit. It’s very odd looking, with a wholly impractical looking walker with shopping cart wheels on it, and with the oxygen pack on hinges, apparently so that the Cosmonaut can crawl into the suit from the back. Dad walks up to the suit, cranes his neck to peep into the innards of it, and turns around to me and says, “that, at least, is pretty cool,” and steps aside to let me see what he’s talking about.
On the inside of the hinged oxygen pack, the bottles were braced together with that I swear was a common nine-inch block of pine two-by-four.
There’s been at least one animal death: Laika, the Russian dog that became the first Earthling in space, was euthenized in orbit, as the Sputnik II (AKA Muttnik) satelite that she was on had no provisions for re-entry or landing.
I think that all of the monkeys launced by the US survived.
Just a week or two ago I saw a snippet of a PBS show about space flight that said something like “The safe return of Laika proved that humans could survive in space.” I knew it was BS but I did some research to be sure. Sputnik was II was launched Nov. 3, 1957. It burned up in the atmosphere in April, 1958, IIRC. I wasn’t able to learn how long Laika lived, but I think it was only a few days.
The first chimpanzee sent into space by NASA was named Ham, in a suborbital flight in Jan. 1961.
He survived, even though the capsule almost capsized before rescuers arrived. The second chimp in space [just kidding] was Alan B. Shepard in May of the same year.
Enos was the first chimp NASA sent into orbit, in Nov. 1961. John Glen followed Feb. 1962.
By the way, some people seem to remember that Khruschev gave Kennedy one of Laika’s puppies. This is not correct. It was a puppy from Stulka, one of the first 2 Soviet space dogs that did returned safely to earth.
Euthenized in orbit? Is that just a nice way of saying “ran out of oxygen and died?” Or, was there some sort of gassing mechanism in the satellite that, with the push of a button on earth, would put the dog to sleep? Is the satellite endlessly circling up there with a little doggy skeleton inside? Considering the lack of oxygen, would it even be a skeleton? Do bodies decay without oxygen?
What morbid questions! But you guys have got my curiosity stirred.