Trouble in Space: A Look at Past NASA Disasters

NASA disasters over the years range in severity — some ended in tragedy.

Explosions and other catastrophic failures have hampered NASA missions throughout the space program's decades-long history, Tuesday's rocket explosion in Virginia being just the latest.

Many of those disasters, like Tuesday's over Wallops Island six seconds after liftoff, caused no injuries — but others, like the infamous Challenger explosion, tragically killed astronauts on board.

Here is a look back at other notable disasters that have occurred on the Space Program's watch.

Wallops Island, Aug. 22, 2008. NASA destroyed an unmanned experimental rocket launched from Wallops Island, Virginia, carrying a pair of research satellites after it veered off course, 27 seconds into the pre-dawn flight. It was between 11,000 and 12,000 feet high when it exploded. Officials said they do not know why it veered off course and was destroyed to avoid endangering the public.

Glory Mission’s Taurus rocket failure, March 4, 2011. The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite plummeted into the Pacific Ocean after a second launch attempt. The Taurus XL rocket lifted off early Friday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, but fell to the sea several minutes later. Authorities later explained that the rocket and satellite did not separate in time after the initial launch. 

Columbia explosion, Feb. 1, 2003. Seventeen years after the Challenger exploded, the Columbia shuttle broke apart while landing at the end of its mission, killing all seven astronauts on board. The shuttle had made numerous missions back starting in 1981, and its loss prompted NASA to perform extra safety checks in orbit for all future missions.

Challenger explosion, Jan. 28, 1986. In one of the most well-known and horrific NASA tragedies, seven astronauts were killed on board when the space shuttle exploded 73 seconds into its flight. On Jan. 28, 1986, television viewers watched live as the spacecraft disintegrated with teacher Christa McAuliffe on board and resulted in suspension of the space program for 32 months.

Apollo 13, April 11, 1970. Planned to to be the third mission to land on the moon, an internal explosion forced the spacecraft to orbit the moon and make an emergency landing to earth -- making the quote "Houston we have a problem," known forever. A rupture in the spacecraft's oxygen tank caused the mission to abort but the three astronauts on board survived by resorting to the the spacecraft's lunar module to fly to back earth.

Apollo 1 fire, Jan. 27, 1967. Three astronauts were killed in a pre-flight test when a fire engulfed the cockpit. After noticing a few problems including a strange smell in their oxygen, a trigger of the master alarm and lack of communication, the three astronauts had continued with the test, weeks before a planned launch date of Feb. 21, 1967.

Vanguard TV3 failure, Dec. 6, 1957. In NASA's first attempt to launch a satellite into orbit around Earth, the rocket failed to launch about two seconds after liftoff. At about four feet in the air, the rocket lost its thrust, resulting in the rupture and explosion of fuel tanks and destroying the rocket. It is now on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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