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First to sink his capsule: Gus Grissom was launched in 1961 in the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell 7 on a 15 minute flight to a splash down in the Atlantic. The capsule flooded when explosive bolts blew open the hatch. Grissom floated out in his buoyant spacesuit, but water seeped through an open vent to swamp the suit. He was about to go under when he grabbed a sling dangling from a rescue helicopter and was yanked to safety. The water-filled capsule, too heavy for the helicopter, was abandoned. The chopper cut the capsule loose and reeled in Grissom. Today, Liberty Bell 7 is on the ocean floor near the Bahamas beneath three miles of water.
First flashing-mirror rescue: Scott Carpenter was supposed to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Rico after orbiting in his Mercury capsule Aurora 7 in May 1962. Firing of the landing rockets in space was delayed three seconds, so he overshot the target by 250 miles. Out of radio contact 41 minutes, NASA was worried until he flashed a passing boat with a hand mirror. After three hours bobbing among the waves, he was rescued.
Longest wait for a pickup: Cosmonauts Pavel Belyayev and Alexei Leonov were launched in 1965. They spent 26 hours in space, did the first-ever spacewalk, and returned to Earth March 19 only to wait more than a day to be picked up after they parachuted into a forest deep in the snow-covered Ural Mountains. A helicopter found them in three hours, but couldn't land on the rugged terrain. Belyayev and Leonov spent the night with supplies dropped on the hillside by the chopper. The nearest landing site was 12 miles away and a party descended there the next day. But they didn't reach the stranded cosmonauts until midday and had to call for another helicopter supply drop to spend that night. It took the entire third day to hike to the helicopter landing area. When Belyayev and Leonov reached civilization March 21, they had spent three times as long in the Urals as in space.
Most dangerous flight: Apollo 13 astronauts James Lovell, John L. Swigart Jr. and Fred W. Haise Jr. came near death on the way to the Moon in April 1970 when the oxygen tank in their command module exploded. The flight was aborted, but they had to fly around the Moon on their way home. They hid in the lunar module, using it as a lifeboat for oxygen and power. The aborted flight lasted five days.
Most dangerous launch: Cosmonauts Vladimir Titov and Gennadi Strekalov were strapped into their Soyuz T-10A capsule in September 1983, ready for launch to the Salyut 7 station, when fire erupted at the base of their A-2 rocket 90 seconds before launch. The Soyuz escape rocket was triggered. The capsule separated from the booster, lifting off seconds before the A-2 exploded. Titov and Strekalov landed, uninjured, several miles away.
Loudest bang in space: Alexander Alexandrov and Vladimir Lyakhov bailed out of Salyut 7 station in 1983, into their Soyuz T-9 capsule, until it was found that no life-threatening damage had been done by a micrometeorite which had pinged loudly against a half-inch-thick pane in a station porthole.
First self-serve gas station accident: While taking on fuel from an unmanned Progress tanker in 1983, a space station oxidizer line ruptured. Alexander Alexandrov and Vladimir Lyakhov bailed out of Salyut 7 into their Soyuz T-9 capsule. After an all-clear, the cosmonauts returned and by-passed the line.
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