Space, the final frontier. We're not even sure what's out there to be scared of yet, but that doesn't mean there hasn't already been a fair share of terrifying experiences.
Here are incredible and terrifying true stories of accidents in space, and the daring astronauts who faced them head on. Enjoy! And make sure to check out the sources for even more.
In one of the most embarrassing cases of "I left this thing on?" astronaut John Young developed an unfortunate gas attack while he was standing on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission. He blamed the digestion issue on the fruit that NASA had been feeding him.
However, while fart jokes might be funny and all, passing gas was a serious health concern for the mission. Not only did zero gravity mean that it was often pushed back into the digestive system, the introduction of methane with the pure oxygen environment of the suit could potentially create a deadly explosion. Which is why the diet for the astronauts was so heavily regulated in the first place.
Astronaut Bob Curbeam was a seasoned space walker, so when he stepped out to install upgrades to the ISS he wasn't expecting trouble. However, a cooling line broke and began spraying his suit with deadly ammonia. Now Curbeam was faced with two serious problems, first he needed to stop the leak and then he needed to figure out how he was going to return to the station without contaminating the sterilized interior and putting his cremates at risk.
The leak was the easy part, as Curbeam knew the hardware well enough to make the fix. But the ammonia was a much trickier problem. Like most astronauts, Curbeam decided the best course of action would be to solve the problem with SCIENCE! He knew ammonia has a low boiling point, so in order to get himself clean all he needed to do was vaporize it from the suit. He baked himself in sunlight for an extra thirty minutes, which was enough to get him back in and have the suit cleaned properly. Luckily there was no contamination.
While real astronaut food isn't quite as bad as the stuff you can buy at the gift shop, limitations of space travel still leaves a lot to be desired. Fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as staples like bread are impractical for storage and tend to leave a lot of crumbs. Tortillas are common, but astronauts tend to get sick of the same rotating eight-day meal schedule.
In 2004, an unmanned cargo ship was set to deliver fresh food to the ISS, but was delayed by unforeseen complications. Commander Leroy Chiao and engineer Salizhan Sharipov were stuck without fresh rations, so they were forced to cut their regular food consumption to preserve supplies. It wasn't all bad though, as they got to make up the calorie deficit by eating abundant deserts.
During Chris Hadfield's first flight, he and the crew had to connect a space shuttle weighing a quarter million pounds to a target the size of a coffee cup on the Mir Space Station. Hadfield's job was to give the speed and range information to the pilot while they docked, an important job because of how precise the landing needed to be. Traveling at 1/10th of a foot per second with only a two minute window of opportunity, failure would be catastrophic.
When they were just thirty feet away, Hadfield noticed the sensors were giving him two different readings at 32ft and 20ft. With some serious quick thinking, he used his thumb to eyeball the distance through a window and grabbed a stopwatch to do some quick math. He was able to get the math just right, and they used the thrusters for a perfect docking at the perfect speed.
In 1984 one of the most important pieces of the Discovery shuttle had a critical malfunction. The waste-dump system became clogged, and as a result a massive icicle made of astronaut urine formed on the outside of the shuttle. Weighing nearly thirty pounds, the icicle had the potential to damage the heat shields upon re-entry if left be.
A spacewalk was too dangerous, so NASA advised the crew to angle the shuttle with the icicle facing the sun in an attempt to melt it. After three days the pee was still holding strong. They were forced to use the grabber arm of the shuttle to break it off, and were luckily successful. Sending days of collected sewage hurtling into deep space.
When a solar panel on the ISS jammed and threatened the safety of the entire station, Scott Parazynski was called on to do a heroic feat of spacewalking. The original objective was to install a new module on the station for future laboratories. All was going well until they ordered the solar panels to extend and instead they began to jam up and tear. If they tried to undock the shuttle it could rip apart the station, so the crew had to wait for over three days while NASA came up with a plan.
The solution? Parazynski would have to travel further away from the airlock than anyone had at that point to save the panels. On top of the distance, he was at constant risk of electrocuting himself by touching metal to metal on the solar panels, which also could have ignited the oxygen in his suit. Thankfully he was successful in fixing the panels, and to this day considers the event one of NASAs greatest accomplishments.
In 2006 NASA admitted that they had accidentally erased the tapes from the original Apollo 11 moon landing. In a cost cutting measure, they had to resort to re-using tapes for later missions and in the process accidentally destroyed the evidence of humankind's greatest achievement.
Luckily CBS News still had their copy of the broadcast stored for protection, and loaned the tape to a very embarrassed NASA so it could be reproduced.
While the Americans were conveniently able to land their spacecrafts in the Pacific Ocean, their Russian counterparts returned to Earth in the harsh, dense forests of the Siberian wilderness. This reached its logical conclusion when two cosmonauts found themselves landing off course, facing the bears and wolves of the Ural Mountains with only a single 9mm pistol.
While the cosmonauts survived the encounter, they were able to convince their bosses that something more was needed. So the TP-82 pistol (more like a sawed off shotgun by most accounts) was developed. The TP-82 was specifically designed with a stopping power capable of defeating bears, but surely at least one cosmonaut considered its effectiveness against an alien.
While the gloves that astronauts wear are great for protecting them during their hazardous spacewalks, they aren't exactly designed for ergonomics. A recent study discovered that around one in ten astronauts suffered fingernail trauma as a result of the gloves. With a number of them losing a fingernail or two entirely due to how the pinching gloves reduce circulation.
Living in weightless conditions can have some strange consequences, and turn everyday objects into lethal weapons. In 2007, astronaut Sunita Williams was trying to make some makeshift space sushi. She was just about to add the wasabi when a stray squirt got loose due to low pressure and began to splatter the walls of the International Space Station.
It took a while to get the spicy condiment cleaned up, and stray bits of wasabi were found hiding dangerously close to the module.
The ISS has had many additions over the ten years that its been inhabited, but one of the most frequent complaints still is how cramped the crew quarters are. Each astronaut is given an alcove the size of a phone booth, and catches their sleep while free floating in a sleeping bag. Sleeping without gravity is apparently quite comfortable, but there are still problems even while passed out.
"During the night while you're sleeping, you might start drifting and end up somewhere you didn't intend to be in the first place," Canadian astronaut Julie Payette said.
Jerry Linenger was having some delicious dehydrated borscht when disaster struck. He was halfway through an extended stay on the Mir station, meant to be the longest period of time any American had spent in space. The station was in the middle of a personnel switch, and packed to double capacity with six astronauts. In order to accommodate the extra oxygen, another tank had to be opened. However, the volatile tank of concentrated oxygen-based chemicals caught fire in what could be best described as a massive blowtorch.
The fire blazed for fourteen minutes and threatened to burn a hole in the aluminum siding of the craft if something wasn't done. While the fire burned out, three of the crew members doused the station with fire extinguishers while the other three prepared their way out. The only problem with an escape? One of the shuttles was blocked by fire, so only three of them could escape.
Luckily the fire burned out, and although there was smoke damage to the Mir it wasn't impossible to clean up and nobody had to draw straws to see who stayed behind.
Along with trouble showering, another feat of hygienic engineering involves the ISS advanced bathroom system. There are two toilets on the space station, located in the Russian segment and US modules. Since theres such a scarcity of water, urine is recycled into clean drinking water as well as water for bathing and food preparation. Although apparently the astronauts arent too perturbed by the idea.
The toilets themselves also have a reputation of being balky and breaking frequently, requiring on-orbit plumbing jobs to get them working.
While the actual space part is usually plenty fun, its the getting there and back that really takes a toll on the astronauts. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft has developed quite a reputation for itself as a bumpy trip, a feeling described as a train wreck followed by a car crash followed by falling of your bike.
Soyeon Yi was coming back to Earth after one of the most successful missions in ISS history. The first Korean in space, she was hurtling to the ground aboard the Soyuz when everything went south. Due to detachment problems, the onboard computers sensed the craft was on an undesirable trajectory and was forced to switch to a ballistic re-entry. If that doesn't sound good its because its definitely not. Gravity was pulling them to ground while the atmospheric drag and heat shield tried to keep them landing safe.
Still, they came out nowhere close to the expected landing site. Crawling out of the capsule they discovered that they were actually in a field in Kazakhstan. Some understandably shocked herders found them and managed to help a crew member out, but unfortunately didn't have cell phones they could call for help with. With nobody knowing where they were or if they were safe, Soyeon and the other astronauts were able use the GPS on the Soyuz to contact the Russian Space Agency for a helicopter.
While the physical ailments of living in space can certainly take their toll, its the extreme feeling of isolation that comes with being separated from your own planet that can really give an astronaut the blues. Most combat loneliness by bonding with their crew and calls to home are possible as well, but sometimes the astronauts end up missing major life events.
In 2004 Michael Fincke was forced to miss his daughter's birth while he was serving on a long duration mission. He had to wait four months until the landing to meet Tarali for the first time.
No matter how sturdy your space-legs are, space sickness still affects a seasoned astronaut. While the team does its best to prepare the crew by reproducing microgravity on the ground, its still not uncommon for astronauts to lose their lunch once the liftoff is over with.
Making things even more complicated, the space-vomit is extremely difficult to clean up since it hangs in the air as a cloud of gross droplets.
There were two methods of escape developed in case of a potential explosion on the launch pad. With the rockets of the Apollo missions powered by plain old kerosene and hydrogen, they were essentially sitting on a giant bomb. If disaster were to strike, the original plan was to have the astronauts slide down (in their space suits no less) a giant tube into a nuclear-bomb proof bunker called the Rubber Room.
This escape was eventually replaced with a combination of a giant basket and an old anti-mine vehicle. While both options sound like fun, they also don't sound particularly reassuring safety wise.
Don't let all the shiny chrome white surfaces fool you, being in outer space can get pretty stinky. Microgravity makes it impossible to have a normal shower since the water just kind of bubbles around in the air. Instead, astronauts aboard the ISS use a squirt gun and a washcloth in combination with a special rinse-less shampoo to keep their hair clean.
Being in space is the experience of a lifetime, but living in weightless conditions can take a serious toll on an astronaut's health. One of the most significant problems is the effect on bone strength and density.
A recent study found that bone strength dips by at least 14% during a half-year stay in space. While other reports observed that bone density can decrease between 0.4% and 1.8% for each month on the station. This can lead to greater risks of fractures and osteoporosis, so astronauts do diligent bone strength exercises in space and enter physical rehabilitation once they're back on the ground.
John Young once again caused trouble during the Gemini 3 tests when he smuggled a sandwich on board the craft. While in orbit, Young took out the sandwich for a taste test and had to quickly shove it back into his suit when crumbs began floating in the air.
NASA and Congress were furious at the potential chaos the stray sandwich bits could have caused to the electrical equipment and a NASA official actually had to speak these words to the public; "We have taken steps... to prevent the recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights."