This Day in History (24-Apr-1967) – Cosmonaut Vladimir Komorov becomes the first human casualty of a mission to space

Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, decided to stage a spectacular midspace rendezvous between two Soviet spaceships, on the occasion of 50th  anniversary of the founding of the Soviet Union. The first capsule to be launched would be the Soyuz 1, with Vladimir Komarov inside. The next day, a second vehicle -Soyuz 2 would take off, with two additional cosmonauts; the two vehicles would meet, dock, Komarov would crawl from one vehicle to the other. Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was nominated as a backup pilot for Soyuz 1.

A few days prior to take off, there were known flaws in the spacecraft (203 to be exact) and engineers on the spacecraft’s development team knew it wasn’t ready for a manned flight. As the launch date approached, conscientious engineers filed a ten page report outlining each of the flaws and arguing for the mission’s cancellation. Venyamin Russayev, Yuri Gagarin’s KGB escort and close friend, passed the report to a superior. The only result was his ban from ever engaging a cosmonaut or anyone affiliated with the space program in conversation again. If Komarov had refused the flight due to safety issues, the politburo would strip him of his military honors and send Gagarin in his place. Komarov couldn’t send a close friend and national hero to his death, and hence agreed to continue.

Komarov flew the ship as scheduled. Eight minutes later Komarov was in orbit, one of the Souz’s two solar panels failed to deploy starving the craft of electrical power. Other glitches developed as the day went on.  Seeing all these problems the ground control decided to abandon the Soyuz 2 launch and bring Komarov home at the first available opportunity.  But as soon as the cosmonaut reentered the atmosphere, the lopsided spacecraft was unbalanced and started spinning. Komarov’s wife came on the line and the couple spoke about his affairs and said goodbye. Finally, the cosmonaut’s yells of frustration and rage were the last sounds recorded from the spacecraft. Soyuz 1 hit the ground with the force of a 2.8 ton meteorite. The largest recognizable part of Komarov’s body during funaral was his heel bone.


This Day in History (12-Apr-1992) – The 350-tonne Buddha statue salvaged from the Hussain Sagar where it had sunk in 1990

During his visit to New York, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao saw the Statue of Liberty and was inspired by the efforts to restore it. He said “I wanted something like that … That would have been my contribution to society.” Rama Rao chose to depict Gautama Buddha because “he was a humanitarian who told the whole truth to the people. It is our pride.” Also Hyderabad was a major Budhhist center in the time of King Ashoka in the 3rd century BC. After a long search, the team found a solid granite rock on a mountainside 40 miles outside Hyderabad. For over a year, hundreds of labourers helped the temple architect and builder S.M.Ganapathi Sthapati create the statue. After five years and the expenditure of US$3 million, the statue stood at 58 feet and weighed 350 tons, making it the world’s tallest monolithic statue of the Buddha. A concrete platform measuring 15 feet, now referred to as the “Rock of Gibraltar,” was constructed in the middle of Hussain Sagar to aid in erecting the statue. The roads of the Hyderabad city were also widened for this purpose.

ABC Limited, a local company, was given the responsibility of transferring the statue onto the concrete platform. Using a trailer vehicle, the statue was brought to the shore of Hussain Sagar. On March 10, 1990, company workers shifted the statue on top of a barge. After traveling only 100 yards, the statue tipped and fell into the lake. The accident killed 10 people.

After a two-year salvage operation, the statue was pulled out of the lake and was installed on the platform successfully in 1992. While it has never been admitted by political leaders, they were wary of consecrating the statue for what appeared to be sentimental reasons. Former Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao lost power even as sculptors were working on the statue. Tragedy of killing 10 people struck when M. Channa Reddy was the Chief Minister. It was up to former Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu to get the statue installed. In 2006, the Dalai Lama consecrated the statue after performing a ritual.



This Day in History (11-Apr-1970) – Apollo 13, the only mission bound for the moon to be launched and not reach its target, takes off from Cape Canaveral

Apollo 13 was to be the third mission to land on the Moon. The Apollo spacecraft was made up of two independent spacecraft joined by a tunnel: orbiter Odyssey, and lander Aquarius. The crew lived in Odyssey on the journey to the moon. The spacecraft was launched at 2:13 p.m. EST, April 11, 1970 from launch complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. The crew consisted of James A. Lovell, world’s most traveled astronaut, John L. Swigert, the First-time flyer and Fred W. Haise, backup crew member of previous Apollo missions.

On the evening of April 13, when the crew was 200,000 miles from Earth and closing in on the moon, mission controller Sy Liebergot saw a low-pressure warning signal on a hydrogen tank in Odyssey. Swigert flipped the switch for the routine procedure. A moment later, the entire spacecraft shuddered around the startled crew. Alarm lights lit up in Odyssey and in Mission Control as oxygen pressure fell and power disappeared. The crew notified Mission Control, with Swigert famously uttering, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

A spark from an exposed wire in the oxygen tank caused a fire, ripping apart one oxygen tank and damaging another inside the spacecraft. Luckily for Apollo 13, the damaged Odyssey had a healthy backup: Aquarius. The crew now had to balance the challenge of getting home with the challenge of preserving power on Aquarius. The crew performed a crucial burn to point the spacecraft back towards Earth and powered down every nonessential system in the spacecraft.  Without a source of heat, cabin temperatures quickly dropped down close to freezing. Some food became inedible. The crew also rationed water to make sure Aquarius — operating for longer than it was designed — would have enough liquid to cool its hardware down. It was a long few days back home; the entire crew lost weight and Haise developed a kidney infection. However they returned safely to the Pacific Ocean on April 17 after 4 days of anxious hourney. Although Apollo 13’s design problems left a mark on NASA’s reputation, today it also stands as a shining example of how NASA solved a life-threatening problems in space.


This Day in History (11-Mar-1953) – American B-47 accidentally drops a nuclear bomb on South Carolina, the bomb doesn’t go off due to 6 safety catches

As reported by American Heritage, an American B-47E bomber was flying over Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The captain of the bomber, Bruce Kulka, decided to go into the aircraft’s bomb bay to look at the nuclear weapon after difficulties during the flight with its locking pin. But the unfortunate captain had no idea where to find the locking pin in the bomb release mechanism. He searched for the pin for 12 minutes before rightly realising it was high up in the bomb bay. He jumped up to see where he thought the locking pin was but unfortunately chose the emergency bomb-release mechanism for his handhold. The three-ton bomb broke the doors of the plane open and feel towards the earth. The captain somehow managed to grab onto something and haul himself to safety. But shortly afterwards, the plane felt the shock of the nuclear bomb hitting the ground. Luckily, the nuclear core of the bomb had been stored elsewhere on the plane.

The blast completely destroyed vegetable garden and the playhouse of Walter Gregg’s two daughters and created a massive crater measuring 70-foot-wide and 35-foot-deep. all that remained of the playhouse were a few twisted shards of the corrugated metal roof. A minutes before girls along with their cousin had moved away from playhouse to the side yard 200 yards away. Six members of the Gregg’s family including the girls were injured but thanks to remarkable good fortune no one was killed in the incident.

In a similar incidence on 24th Jan, 1961 at Goldsboro, North Carolina; a B-52G bomber broke up when the crew onboard noticed a leak during mid-air refueling. The wreckage of the aircraft fell over the town of Faro and five of the eight-strong crew managed to survive. The aircraft was carrying two Mark 39 thermonuclear weapons. One of them gently parachuted to the earth. But the other flew into a farmers field at 700 miles per hour. The force of the impact led to it losing its uranium. Government admitted that when the bomb was found its arming mechanism had gone through every step but one of the seven stages of detonation. More worrying, it later emerged that the bomb had broken into several pieces, including one which was never found. This missing piece contained uranium and its believed to have sank deep into the earth.