Space is notoriously difficult to prepare for. It's truly "rocket science," as Richard Branson put it when discussing his Virgin Galactic project.

Unfortunately, humanity's quest to go beyond Earth and understand the universe has resulted in a few calamities throughout space travel's long history.

Here are some of the biggest tragedies and some background on the courageous souls that journeyed into space to enhance our scientific grasp of the universe.

 Cosmonauts Prepare For the Arrival of Russian Module in the ISS After A Seven-Hour Spacewalk
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Maxim Suraev (out of frame), both Expedition 22 flight engineers, participate in a session of extravehicular activity (EVA) as maintenance and construction continue on the International Space Station. During the spacewalk, Kotov and Suraev prepared the Mini-Research Module 2 (MRM2), known as Poisk, for future Russian vehicle dockings. Suraev and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams, commander, will be the first to use the new docking port when they relocate their Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft from the aft port of the Zvezda Service Module on Jan. 21. Earth's horizon and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for the scene.

Apollo 1

The Apollo space program came close to being canceled before it ever began. Unfortunately, History.com said multiple faults were pointed up by Apollo 1's crew and technicians before a fire devoured the mission's crew compartment. The incident killed the three astronauts on board, in yet another example of racing for fame over safety.

Although the disaster occurred during a simulated launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, NASA recognized Apollo 1 as the first flight.

A wayward spark ignited a fire in the Apollo 204 module's pure oxygen environment, killing astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee due to asphyxiation. The hatch door's design flaws made it heavy and slow to open, making it impossible to extract the astronauts in time.

The crew and several engineers expressed their concerns about the Apollo 1 spacecraft's issues at various times throughout preparations, as appears to have been the case with an awful number of space flights. Despite this, schedule demands and a desire to be viewed as a trailblazer led to eliminating extra safety precautions in favor of a shorter launch window.

Soyuz I

Vladimir Komarov is one of the genuinely sad individuals of the 1950s space competition between the United States and Russia. The Soyuz I spacecraft's parachute system failed during the fall back to Earth, sending its sole crew member, Vladimir Komarov, plummeting to the Earth in a ball of flames.

What makes this narrative so heartbreaking is that Komarov was well aware that the mission had been jeopardized. In fact, in his final recorded broadcast from the vessel, he screamed and cursed at his superiors, claiming they had "killed" him.

NPR said Kolarov's close friend and colleague, Soviet space hero Yuri Gagarin, had inspected the spacecraft with other technicians and discovered 203 structural flaws.

Despite calls to postpone the spaceflight, Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union's leader at the time, insisted on going ahead with the plans - the spaceflight was essentially a gimmick to honor the Communist revolution's 50th anniversary and could not be postponed. Both Kolarov and Gagarin, unfortunately, requested to fly. Each wished to save the other from what turned out to be an unavoidable death.

According to sources, Kolarov requested an open casket burial so that the Soviet leadership might see what it had done to him before he flew. He was granted his request.

Soyuz II

The only three persons who have died in space have died as a result of this accident, Astronomy.com said. Following the successful moon landing of the Apollo mission, the Soviet Union was keen to establish its imprint in space and outperform its American colleagues. They undoubtedly made their mark when they launched Salyut-1, the world's first space station, in April 1971.

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After setting off on the Soyuz 11 rocket, landing at Salyut-1, and spending three weeks aboard carrying out scientific investigations, three cosmonauts acquired hero status in Russia two months later.

Until the return flight on June 30, everything looked to be going according to plan. The spaceship landed perfectly after a regular re-entry. When ground crews opened the hatch, however, all three cosmonauts were unresponsive.

Soyuz 11 had landed on its own. A malfunctioning air vent had opened during the descent, causing cabin depressurization. Because none of the cosmonauts wore spacesuits, they ran out of oxygen quickly and suffocated to death around 30 minutes before landing.

As a result of the Soyuz 11 accident, cosmonauts and astronauts are now required to wear spacesuits throughout any stage of a mission where depressurization is a possibility.

Challenger Mission

The space shuttle Challenger's tenth mission ended in disaster. The shuttle, which was carrying seven astronauts, disintegrated 73 seconds after taking off from Cape Canaveral. The plane then fell into the Atlantic Ocean from a height of about 50,000 feet.

According to an examination conducted after the mishap, NASA knew that freezing temperatures may harm the spacecraft's rubber O-rings, which are designed to separate the rocket boosters, prevent fuel leaks, and prevent them from sealing.

Bob Ebeling, a Challenger shuttle engineer, had desperately tried to warn that there was insufficient data on how the rubber O-rings would withstand temperatures colder than 54 °F (12 °C), and that the launch should be postponed. His request went unheeded. Ebeling has gone home after a particularly tense meeting with NASA officials and told his wife that the Challenger shuttle will explode.

Despite these warnings, NASA decided to proceed with the launch, resulting in considerable anger and the temporary suspension of the space shuttle program.

Columbia Space Shuttle

The Columbia space shuttle broke up on re-entry on February 1, killing all seven astronauts aboard. It was the space shuttle's 28th mission. The tragedy caused NASA's space shuttle fleet to be retired in 2011 and to have a shortage of truly ambitious missions in recent years, with NASA presently working on a successor with Artemis Mission.

The problem began 16 days before Columbia's launch from Earth, according to an investigation. A small piece of insulating foam detached from a fuel tank during launch and punctured a minor hole in the shuttle's left-wing.

Due to the foam detachment during previous shuttle launches, NASA officials thought there was no problem. On this occasion, the small hole in the wing allowed air to leak in, causing depressurization and eventual destruction of the craft.

Due to the foam issue, NASA came under scrutiny from Congress and the press. As the disaster struck, the crew was doing everything they were trained to do, and everything was going as planned.

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