1Challenger Disaster (1986)
Nobody expected what happened 73 seconds into its flight; the spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members in what became known as the "Challenger disaster." The investigation found that a faulty O-ring seal allowed hot gases from the shuttle's solid rocket booster (SRB) to impinge on the external propellant tank and booster strut. The strut and aft end of the tank failed, allowing the top of the SRB to rotate into the top of the tank. Challenger was thrown sideways into the Mach 1.8 windstream and broke up, resulting in the loss of all crew members. NASA investigators determined that they may have survived the spacecraft disintegration, possibly becoming unconscious from hypoxia, since some tried to activate their emergency oxygen. Any survivors of the breakup were killed, however, when the largely intact cockpit hit the water at 200 mph (320 km/h).
The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were eventually recovered from the ocean floor after a lengthy search and recovery operation. Although the exact timing of the death of the crew is unknown, several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. However, the shuttle had no escape system and the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was too violent to survive.
It has been estimated that nearly 48% of 9-13-year-olds witnessed the event in their classrooms because McAuliffe was in the spotlight. The 25th Space Shuttle mission altered the history of manned space exploration and represented the first loss of an American crew during a space mission (Apollo 1 was during a training exercise).
(Source | Photo)
2Columbia Disaster (2003)
The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle's external tank under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS), which shields the vehicle from the intense heat generated from atmospheric compression during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation under the rationale that the Columbia crew could not have fixed the problem. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) later concluded that a rescue mission using Atlantis may have been possible.
After the accident, flight operations were delayed for over two years, construction of the International Space Station was put on hold, and for 29 months the station relied entirely on the Russian Federal Space Agency for supplies. Also, a designated rescue mission was established in case irreparable damage was found, and it was decided that all missions would be flown only to the ISS so that the crew could use that spacecraft as a "safe haven" if need be.
(Source | Photo)
3Vanguard TV3 Rocket Explosion (1957)
It was quite an embarrassment for the U.S. Local newspapers published headlines and articles noting the failure, comparing it to the success of the Soviet's Sputnik by calling the Vanguard names such as "Flopnik," "Kaputnik," "Oopsnik," and "Stayputnik."
4Titan 34D-9 KH9-20 Rocket Explosion (1986)
5Proton-M Rocket Crash (2013)
The Spectacular footage showed the rocket veering off its trajectory just seconds after its launch at 6:38 am (0238 GMT) before erupting into a ball of flames and releasing highly toxic rocket fuel into the air. The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, said the accident caused no damage or casualties. The rocket was supposed to take three Glonass-M satellites into space.
6Titan IV A-20 Rocket Explosion (1998)
The problem started with a short that reset the launch vehicle's guidance system. Without positive control, the rocket began to pitch forward. One of the SRBs tore loose and self-destructed, which finished the destruction of the main vehicle that the pitchover had started, and a moment later the other solid booster destroyed itself, as well. Within seconds, the flight was over and the NRO was down one satellite.
7Ariane-5 Rocket Explosion (2002)
8Delta II Rocket Explosion (1997)
Unfortunately, the rocket was only about 1,600 ft. (~500 meters) in height when this happened, so the burning debris rained down on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station like mortar fire. Miraculously, no one was injured, though several parking lots and dozens of vehicles were destroyed.
9Long March 3 Rocket Explosion (1996)
10Glory Mission's Taurus Rocket Failure (2011)