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Reentry Scare

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"I can't slow down!"
Crown, Mobile Suit Gundam

The process of atmospheric entry can be compared to hitting treacle after a ride across ice (or, if you're American, suddenly hitting a wall of peanut butter during an easy downhill jog). A fast-moving object compresses air before it, generating a lot of heat in the process. In fact, there are not many substances that can withstand the heat generated, and most spacecraft have an ablative heat shield that burns off during re-entry, which requires the spacecraft to come in at a fairly precise angle. This itself is a danger because if the craft comes in at too low an angle, it can literally bounce off the atmosphere and be lost in space (like a stone skipping on water), while if it comes in at too high an angle, the G-forces would likely kill (or seriously harm) the astronauts within. At even steeper angles, no heat shield can save the craft, and it will burn up as a man-made meteor.note 

One other side effect of this whole process is that the heat generated strips electrons from the atmosphere. Since radio waves can't penetrate the resulting cloud of plasma, older spacecrafts' communications systems would be rendered useless for the duration of the process, which lasts for several minutes. More modern spacecraft get around this by sending the signals up, to a satellite, thereby bypassing the plasma cloud.

Therefore, the situation will arise in Speculative Fiction when a spacecraft whose current ability (due to damage) to survive reentry is unclear does have to make an atmospheric entry. There may be a pre-announced time before communications are restored — it will pretty much never meet it. There will be a wait of a good thirty seconds or more, the ground crew will just be about ready to give up — then they will get a message from the crew, usually saying they are alright and coming in for a smooth landing.

This trope is sometimes used incorrectly when the object does not have to aerobrake because its method of propulsion allows it to slow down before entering the atmosphere. E.g., if Superman uses his flight powers, not restricted by such concerns as fuel, to de-orbit at highway speeds, there will be no exceptional heat.

See also Coming in Hot. Often followed by You Had Us Worried There. Contrast Frictionless Reentry. May be combined with Rocketless Reentry for a really serious scare.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Happened often in Gundam.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has one when, as the Archangel descends to Earth, Kira has to perform re-entry separately in his Humongous Mecha. The Strike is, fortunately, equipped to handle it, but between the physical strain and the Heroic BSoD he's just been kicked into, Kira spends the next episode or so in a coma.
      • Early in the sequel, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: After a battle with extremist Coordinator while he and his team doing an attempt to partially destroy Junius Seven to avoid it to become a total Colony Drop on earth, Athrun had to re-entry with a badly damaged ZAKU Warrior. Thankfully, Shinn saved his ass with his brand new Impulse Gundam.
      • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Astray, the Astray Red Frame ends up plummeting to Earth after using the last of its power to knock away the Astray Gold Frame from dealing a killing blow. The rest of the Junk Guild come to Lowe's rescue, pulling the Red Frame inside their ship HOME, but they're forced to sacrifice it when they do the same to save the Red Frame.
    • Of course, given that SEED was rather closely aping the original Mobile Suit Gundam, a similar scene happened with Amuro, too. In the TV series, he had a special heat-deflecting coating he had to put on mid-reentry, while in the movie the Gundam survives by holding its riot shield in front of it and venting its entire supply of engine coolant into it. Amuro fares much better than Kira, however.
      • And they both fared a whole lot better than poor Crown, the Zeon soldier who pursued Amuro into the atmosphere, but lacking Amuro's shield, burned up.
      • In both cases the re-entry blackout could be justified despite taking place in the future due to the fact there's a space war going on. According to some UC sourcebooks, Earth's communications sattelites were one of the first things Zeon targeted. In SEED, the other side of the war has near total dominance in space and quite likely did something similar earlier in the war.
    • Showing that nothing was learned from Crown's fate, in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, Kacricon Cooler attempts to challenge the Gundam Mk. II by attacking it during re-entry. Kamille kills him by cutting his re-entry ballute.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ's obligatory re-entry scene goes off without casualties, though it looks like Puru will burn up because her Qubeley lacks a ballute. Judau (in the reentry-capable Zeta) saves her by flying under her in waverider mode.
    • For the hat trick, Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam does it as well. Kincade's Crossbone X-1 is badly damaged by Zabine's X-2, post-defection and knocked into the atmosphere. For three chapters it looks like he died, but he makes a grand return, revealing that he survived by using the Gundam's beam shields. Even so, he was very badly beaten up, but was recovered by the Federation, who treated his injuries including giving him a prosthetic hand.
    • In Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, it looks like Banagher will have to do this after accidentally killing Gilboa, but in the next OVA we find out that the Garencieres collected the Unicorn in its own emergency descent to Earth.
    • Gundam: Reconguista in G has the entire final battle transition from space to land for the last episode, resulting in this trope several times over.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Ironblooded Orphans has Mikazuki surviving re-entry by using a defeated enemy suit as ablative armour.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing features a lesser version in the final episode, where Heero has to fly into the atmosphere to prevent a chunk of Libra from falling to Earth. While the Wing Zero can (and has) entered the atmosphere under its own power in mobile armor mode, he has to stay in its mobile suit mode in order to use its twin buster rifle, the only weapon powerful enough to destroy the debris, and the relative positions of Wing Zero and his target mean that has to come in at a dangerously steep angle.
    • In Gundam Build Fighters Battlouge, Sei's Build Strike Cosmos is plummeting back to Earth and risking his Gunpla of being destroyed by such an act. Meijin Kawagachi III ends up positioning his A-Z Gundam in its Waverider Mode to help Sei because he doesn't want such a lame win.
    • In Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, after team BUILD DiVERS' disastrous first encounter with Alus, the team end up mimicking certain events from past Gundam series to get back to Earth: Parviz has May ride on his Valkylander's dragon form, Kazami attempts to use his shield to block the heat, but it shatters and Hiroto's Earthree Armor flight unit saves him while Hiroto uses the heat film to save himself, Freddie and the Core Gundam.
  • In the climactic episode of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Hikaru blacks out during a dogfight and comes to while his mech is beginning its plunge through Earth's atmosphere. This turns out not to be an issue; the Valkyrie is designed to survive at least one reentry cycle.
  • In the Cowboy Bebop episode "Wild Horses", Spike has to deal with the possibility of burning up in the Earth atmosphere along with his Swordfish. But at the last minute he's rescued by a refitted Space Shuttle Columbia.
  • Happens twice in Rocket Girls. First time winds up with Yukari and Matsuri having to share a pod. Due to this Matsuri takes the equivalent of being under 800 pounds of weight due to Yukari having to sit on her during reentry and coming out perfectly fine. The second time happens when a calculation error leaves Yukari and Akane stuck in orbit because their capsule can't take the temperature from reentry due to them being out too far. Akane and mission control figure out a way to get back using a Skip Jump method to bleed off momentum. However, Akane being an ill girl, she passes out and Yukari has to improvise.
  • Happens in an early episode of Transformers: Cybertron with Bud and Scattorshot.
  • Cyborg 009 originally ended with Joe and Jet implictly dying in this fashion when 002 tries to save 009 as he's falling back towards Earth, but burns up too much fuel reaching him. Shotaro Ishinomori eventually "lost to the tears of the fans" and Retconned in their survival, courtesy of Ivan reawakening and using his psychic powers to teleport them to safety.
  • In Getter Robo Armageddon, the Shin Getter Robo is blasted from the approaching Jovian moon Europa back to Earth after a failed attempt to blow it up with Stoner Sunshine; they're unable to re-correct as they reenter the atmosphere and it was assumed that the Getter Team were killed.
  • In Halo Legends, one of the ODST drop pods burns up on reentry in the beginning of The Babysitter.
  • Symphogear :
    • The opening scene to GX has an United Nations-owned space shuttle with items from Frontier coming in rough and seemingly aiming to crash land in a populated area. Once the team is given the go-ahead, Hibiki, Tsubasa and Chris are launched into space and a crazy set of events occurs that leads to the space shuttle being saved... but a mountain has been blown apart, part of forest cut apart and Hibiki tossing the space shuttle over a building.
    • In XV, the Symphogears are falling back to Earth after being stranded on the Moon. Hibiki decides the team needs to use the Ex-Drive to survive, but Chris warns they don't have the energy to pull it off. Thankfully, the team is able to pull it off and arrive in time for the final fight.

    Comic Books 
  • Deep Gravity: The damaged freighter Vanguard isn't designed for atmospheric entry, so either its descent has to be halted or the survivors have to get off it. They eventually make it aboard Werner's shuttle, but the shuttle is knocked off its intended angle of descent to the planet, and are therefore at risk of burning up in the atmosphere. They make it through, but control of the shuttle is sufficiently impaired that they crash-land anyway.
  • Superman: During The Death of Superman, Steel experiences this when the Eradicator launches the both of them into space and Steel is forced to release him. He attempts to use his jet boots to slow himself down enough while still having the fuel to fly to safety, however, the Eradicator swings back around and tackles him, sending them both crashing into Coast City.
  • Tintin: This happens in Explorers on the Moon as the "crushing G-Forces" make the crew black out every time (even when landing on and taking off from the Moon). Although the rocketship is designed to land automatically, it's still played up for tension with the usual comm failures and/or engine problems each time, or, in the case of the final return to Earth, everyone on board fainting from lack of oxygen.
  • X-Men:
    • Jean Grey first encountered the Phoenix Force while using her telekinesis to hold the damaged space shuttle she and her friends were in together through re-rentry. While she succeeds in bringing the shuttle to Earth, at the same time a massive solar flare exposes her to a lethal radiation dose, and that's where the Phoenix Force steps in to save her.
    • During Fatal Attractions, the X-Men are forced to leave Avalon in a modified Blackbird when their final fight with Magneto prevents them from teleporting out. As the Blackbird was not designed for space travel at all, Bishop and the other X-Men are forced to try to keep the plane in one piece while keeping Wolverine stable thanks to the damage caused by Magneto stripping the adamantium off his bones. As Jean is one of the X-Men up in the plane, Cyclops even references her encounter with the Phoenix.

  • Apollo 13: And this actually happened in real life, too. See below.
  • In The Right Stuff, John Glenn is bringing home the Friendship 7 capsule. There was concern that his heat shield had detached and that his craft would burn up on re-entry. In the movie he hums "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" during this stressful time, but he didn't in Real Life.
    • This same event is also played for drama in the climactic scene of Hidden Figures.
  • In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the technique of "aerobraking" is used to slow down the spacecraft Leonov approaching Jupiter at high speeds — they enter the outer atmosphere, which acts as a brake and bleeds off sufficient velocity for them to enter orbit. Although the ship in question is designed precisely to do this, the tension is played up, as a very slight miscalculation would indeed end up in fiery death or the ship "missing" its orbit and flying out into space, lost forever.
    • In 2006, 20 years after the film was made, the Real Life Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter successfully used Aerobraking in the Martian atmosphere to bleed off some of its speed. It didn't do the harsh heat-shield-needing aerobraking that the Leonov did in the movie, however; it used conventional rockets to brake from interplanetary speed into a highly elliptical Martian orbit, then grazed Mars' outer atmosphere on three successive orbits to lower its apoapsis altitude (the far part of the ellipse).
  • Space Cowboys: The shuttle's computer is damaged, so they can't do the landing automatically. This is foreshadowed by Tommy Lee Jones's character shutting off the computer during a simulated reentry and landing it manually, to the astonished eyes of the young astronauts. (Up to that point, they believe that a shuttle isn't a plane capable of gliding; it's a "flying brick on approach.") However, the manual landing in the end is performed by the one guy who hasn't even tried doing it in the simulation.
  • Played for laughs in Serenity.
    Mal: This is the Captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then... explode.
  • Also done in SpaceCamp (among other space-based scares), where a camper has to get the space shuttle angled just right for reentry, and has trouble doing so. And then Mission Control loses contact with the shuttle due to reentry, so it's a scare on two fronts. (As noted under Real Life, the problem of communication blackout during reentry was solved in the early days of the space shuttle program—but not until two years after Space Camp was released, so the movie's blackout scene is Truth in Television.)
  • In Space Truckers the protagonists decide to sacrifice their space truck by letting it free fall down into the Earth's atmosphere, so that the friction can destroy all the Killer Robots.
  • Happens to Obi-Wan and Anakin's ship about 30 minutes into Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan quips "Another happy landing" moments after the ship crashes into a tower, probably killing dozens of people. (On the other hand, the EU indicates that control towers are usually computerized or crewed by droids.)
  • Parodied in the final scene of Men In White 1998, where the heroes' spaceship heats up and bursts into flames as it falls through the atmosphere... then the parachute opens, at which point the flames instantly disappear and the spaceship casually drops down.
  • In Mission to Mars Tim Robbins' character ends up drifting away from his crew during a dangerous maneuver in Mars's orbit and goes towards the planet below. Upon seeing a piece of equipment entering Mars' atmosphere and burning up behind him, he opts to commit a Heroic Suicide by instantly killing himself by taking off his helmet to avoid a more painful death and to stop his wife from pointlessly trying to save him and get stranded too.
  • At the end of Jason X, the now super-enhanced Jason Voorhees is finally killed when Brodski grabs Jason in his spacesuit and drags him into Earth 2's orbit. They both burn up in the process, except for Jason's mask, which is implied to still contain a part of his soul.
  • Inverted in Cat Women of the Moon which opens with White Sands Missile Base desperately calling the crew of Moon Rocket 4 because they've blacked out from the terrible G-forces of takeoff.
  • In Star Trek: Generations, the Enterprise-D had just separated its saucer section from the stardrive as the damage from the Duras Sisters' attack heavily damaged it and was set to explode. They fail to get away far enough and are struck by the explosion's shockwave, sending the saucer section hurtling towards a nearby planet. They're able to level out in time and land very roughly.
  • At the start of Rampage (2018), a scientist aboard a space station tries to escape in an escape pod from a mutated rat. The rat lands several hits on the pod's porthole, but it safely ejects. Then the porthole shatters from the abuse as it enters the atmosphere and the pod is incinerated.

  • In the Red Mars Trilogy, a ship full of security troops is coming from Earth to Mars during the second Martian war for independence. The ship, going Too Fast to Stop, is relying on aerobreaking (decelerating through atmospheric friction). The Martians send up a missile loaded with scrap metal and detonate it in front of the ship moments before it hits the atmosphere, leading to a choice of: a) take a steeper reentry angle and burn up, b) get hit by the shrapnel, possibly holing their heat shield and burn up, or c) skip off the atmosphere and use another gravity well to turn around and go home.
  • The Space Wolf novel Grey Hunter has one during a Drop Pod assault when the automatic systems to fire the braking thrusters on Ragnar's pod fail. The sergeant hits the manual override and they make it down without further incident.
  • One episode of Mission Levity is basically a Sinking Ship Scenario with a too steep reentry angle. The crew has to rescue everyone before the ship burns up.

    Live Action TV 
  • A major plot point in The X-Files episode "Space", where a Space Shuttle has to make an emergency reentry due to a bad case of evil alien ghost.
  • In the pilot episode of Salvage 1, after the astronauts are returning to the Earth from the Moon, they're unconscious (and thus unable to control their ship) as they enter the Earth's atmosphere. The government is going to shoot them down unless they can hear "voices", indicating that they're alive and able to land it safely.
  • In the first episode of OUTCASTS, Carpathia Transporter 9 is on final approach. Despite repairs to the heat shield, the ship is fatally damaged on the already notoriously dangerous Carpathian entry. The communications go down just after entry, but return later on when the captain informs Forthaven that his ship will not survive. The sub-shuttles are released, and CT9 breaks up.
  • Used incorrectly in Battlestar Galactica (2003), when the Galactica teleports into a planet's atmosphere. It's visibly not moving that fast (it appears to be merely falling for a few seconds from a standing start), yet it bursts into flames instantly. Also, the fighters they launch don't seem to have the same reentry issues that the ship has, even though they're moving at the same speed.
  • In the UFO (1970) episode "Kill Straker!", a SHADO Moon ship commanded by Colonel Foster is forced to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere at a steeper than normal angle in an attempt to avoid a pursuing UFO. As they do so, a SHADO technician says "I have re-entry cessation on radio contact". 16 hours later, the Moon ship is found floating in space. When Straker sees Colonel Foster, he says "You gave us all quite a scare." Foster explains that the transmission antenna was destroyed during the re-entry attempt.
  • A different take in the Alternate History series For All Mankind when the Apollo 11 mission has apparently failed when the radio and telemetry are cut off from the Eagle on landing, indicating a catastrophic crashlanding which would end not only the astronauts lives but also the US space program. The silence goes on for hours and everyone has given up hope, when Neil Armstrong is finally able to reestablish contact. It turns out the lander had a rough landing impacting with some boulders and now rests at an 45 degree angle with partial crumpled landing legs. Fortunately, the lander is otherwise undamaged and is able to launch and reunite with Collins in the Command Module with some careful calculations.
  • A few times in Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the season one episode “Coming of Age”, Jake, a friend of Wesley Crusher’s, steals a shuttlecraft after he learns he got passed up for Starfleet Academy and couldn’t bear confronting his dad. His flight path sends him towards a planet and threatens to destroy the shuttle and kill him, but Picard is able to talk him through to save his life.
    • In the season four episode “Identity Crisis”, one of La Force’s old crewmates, driven by a desire to return to a planet, hijacks a shuttlecraft to return there. The Enterprise attempts to catch up, but it’s too late and the shuttle explodes in the atmosphere.

    Video Games 
  • In Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge, Orusoh bets on this happening to the player even if he loses the Free-Fall Fight from the Tower of Babel. Fortunately, Rola swoops in just in time to save Mike and unlock his upgraded Falcon's V-System. Carol doesn't need to worry about this since her Tornado is properly equipped for interstellar flight.
  • Mass Effect 2 opens with the Normandy being badly damaged by a Collector ship. While Commander Shepard manages to get every member of their crew off before the ship hits the atmosphere, Shepard him/herself does not, and promptly falls into a planet's atmosphere. By some miracle, Shepard's corpse is left mostly intact, and human organization Cerberus essentially brings what's left of their flayed charred body Back from the Dead over a period of two years.
  • Can happen in Orbiter. Some ships are actually destroyed if you screw up re-entry (Although that depends on whether the person who created the ship included the necessary programming to do so).
  • A cutscene in Stage 3 of Target Earth shows a friendly pilot unable to make it back to the dropship and burning up in Earth's atmosphere. This was deleted in the PAL and NTSC versions and is considered an obvious homage to Mobile Suit Gundam.
  • Halo:
    • In Halo: Combat Evolved, the Master Chief's escape pod experiences airbrake failure when landing on the ring, and the crash kills everyone except for him.
    • ODST drop pods have a non-insignificant rate of failure when launched, as alluded to in the "Anime" section.
    • Halo: Reach plays with the trope. Noble Six has to make an unplanned re-entry by jumping off an orbiting supercarrier with nothing but the re-entry kit on their back. While the descent itself goes well enough, it highlights another reality of improvised atmospheric entries: Nobel Six lands clear in the middle of nowhere and it takes days for them to stagger back to a city during a time-critical situation.
  • Reentry is something you do yourself in Rodina. However, it is not a clean, easy process. If the player comes in too fast or too steep, they'll burn up in the atmosphere. If they come in too shallowly, they will bounce off the atmosphere and have to do it all over again. And if your ship catches on fire, you're dead.
  • Eliminate Down: This is the reason why the Final Boss is a Time-Limit Boss - both you and it are falling through the Earth's atmosphere, and if it's not beaten within 100 seconds, you burn up and lose a life.
  • As of Kerbal Space Program version 1.0, atmospheric entry does damage to craft. How much entry damage done to the craft depends on the user difficulty settings. In any case, coming too fast into an atmosphere or coming in at the wrong angle can cause a craft to dramatically burn up or give the kerbals inside a very wild ride. Damage can be lessened with heat shields.
  • At the end of Sonic Advance 2, Super Sonic is attempting to guide an Egg Cell containing a bunch of animal friends and Cream's mother Vanilla back down into the atmosphere. However, it ends up shattering due to it not being protected for such a thing. It spills the animals and Vanilla out and knocks Sonic out of Super Sonic. He ends up having to dive for Vanilla's hand before they both go kersplat.
  • Inverted at the end of Rocket Knight Adventures: After the Final Boss is defeated and his space station explodes, the boss comes back one last time for Sparkster while he's trapped in an escape pod with no means to defend himself. Once they both reach the planet's atmosphere, Sparkster survives re-entry just fine in his pod while the boss catches fire and burns into cinders.
  • In Mario Kart Wii, falling off Rainbow Road will cause your character's kart to burn up on reentry. This returns in the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe version of the track.
  • In the Henry Stickmin Series, during the last choice of the "Free Man" ending of Completing the Mission, where Henry is escaping from being imprisoned on the Toppat Clan's orbital station, one of the Fails has Henry choosing to return to Earth with no protection other than his spacesuit, which causes him to burn to death. The right choice involves him using a drop pod to return to Earth, which heats up but survives the trip.

  • Happens in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, where the titular Doctor, clad in a spacesuit, is riding a Dracula-imitation robot (with laser eyes) into Earth's atmosphere, after having jumped from the real Dracula's moon base using a technique taught to him by Bruce Lee. Yeah.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons had this in the episode "Deep Space Homer", where Homer becomes an astronaut as part of a NASA program to send an average American into space. During the tense re-entry, the two veteran astronauts stoically hum "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", while Homer nervously sings the "Golden Grahams" jingle.
    • This is likelyobviously a parody of John Glenn in The Right Stuff.
  • In the final episode of Justice League, "Starcrossed (Part 3)", the Watchtower is Colony Dropped onto the baddies' base and almost burns up (Batman manages to barely avert it).
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, JJJ's son John has to pilot his shuttle when it's damaged by a stray meteor, with the risk that the shuttle might not make it upon reentry. Fortunately, he was able to land it safely.
  • Ren and Stimpy join the fire department - when Ren is sent up a telescoping ladder hundreds of stories up to rescue a large fat woman, he passes out from vertigo. She grabs him, clenches him in her teeth, and steps out onto the ladder. Stimpy can't hold the crank and the two rocket earthward, her butt glowing red on re-entry.
  • In The Fairly OddParents! episode "Emotion Commotion", Timmy burns up on reentry after being scared off a cartoonishly tall diving board at the local pool.

    Real Life 
  • The blackout during the re-entry of Apollo 13 really was one and a half minutes longer than anticipated. According to mission controller Gene Kranz it was the "Toughest minute and a half we ever had." The Houston controllers didn't start cheering as soon as they re-established radio contact though. They saved that until Lovell reported that they were floating, right side up, in the Pacific Ocean.
    • The reason the radio blackout lasted longer than usual was that the Apollo 13 Command Module hit the atmosphere at the shallowest re-entry angle EVER, nearly at the lowermost limit before they would have ricocheted back off into space. This happened because a steam vent on the Lunar Module had been applying a very weak thrust to the docked spacecraft on its way back to Earth, without anyone's knowledge. And going into the reentry, there was the additional scare factor that they weren't sure the heat shield was intact.
    • There was also a suspicion that Swigert might've held out answering just a little longer than the earliest he could have gotten through, making it last a little longer than absolutely necessary.
  • John Glenn's Mercury flight had a tense re-entry when mission control got an indication that the heat shield had detached. They attempted a re-entry with the retro-rocket pack (which covers the heat shield) still in place (it would normally be jettisoned before entry) in the hope it would hold the heat shield in place just long enough to do its job. In the end it turned out to have been a false indication and the heat shield had remained firmly attached to the craft.
    • One account says that this gave Glenn another scare, since he was under the impression that the pack had been detached as usual. So when molten chunks started flying past his window, he thought it was his heat shield coming apart...
  • The last flight of the Mercury program, with Gordo Cooper at the controls, suffered a failure of nearly every system on board during orbit. Cooper had to perform the deorbit burn and upper-atmosphere steering manually, with only the horizon out his window for reference and his wristwatch for timing. Not only did he succeed in splashing down safely, he landed closer to the recovery ship than any previous astronaut.
  • Soyuz TMA-10 and TMA-11 both suffered from a "ballistic re-entry", an entry trajectory steeper than normal, exposing the crew to high G forces and a very rough ride. Both incidents had a happy outcome and the crews were recovered none the worse for wear.
    • Ballistic reentry is in fact the normal reentry mode for Soyuz capsules, it's just not normally used because of the excess stress it puts on the crew. Soyuz's heat shield is massively over-engineered so it can withstand most conceivable reentry angles.
  • Soyuz 1 suffered a huge number of malfunctions during its ill-fated mission, culminating in the failure of the landing retros and parachutes intended to slow the capsule's impact with the ground to something survivable.
    • What made this disaster all the more tragic was that even while still in orbit, the ground controllers were convinced the malfunctioning spacecraft couldn't make a successful re-entry. Just like Gordo Cooper, Vladimir Komarov fought the controls and managed to hit his re-entry corridor squarely — and then, just when he thought the worst was over, his parachutes failed to open.
      • It happened to be a design flaw — when during the investigation the next capsule in the series (which was discussed as a possible lifeboat for Komarov at one time) was tested closer then before, they couldn't force it to release its 'chute with the winch. It was a height of the Moon Race and Soyuz was designed and tested in enormous haste and under tremendous pressure, so a lot of normal tests and safety measures were skipped.
      • Everybody on the ground knew that Soyuz was unready to fly, but the pressure to launch was coming from the utmost heights, so no one could really insist. Yuri Gagarin, then a commander of the cosmonaut corps and Komarov's best friend, tried to install himself as a Soyuz-1 pilot, considering that the authorities wouldn't risk the first man in space, but was unsuccessful.
  • Subverted in the case of Soyuz 11; communications were cut off at the start of reentry, which was normal. Reentry was nominal, and the capsule parachuted to a successful landing... at which point ground support opened the hatch and found three dead cosmonauts. When the crew jettisoned the service module after making their deorbit burn, a valve which normally opened very late in the descent (to equalise the pressure inside the capsule with the outside atmospheric pressure, to keep the pressure differential from making the door difficult to open once on the ground) was jarred open, causing a gradual decompression of the cabin. Most of the time, astronauts and cosmonauts wear full space suits during re-entry in case of just such a problem, but the Soviets had stopped it at this time. They went back to wearing suits after the accident.
  • Vostok 1 suffered a failure to fully separate from its service module prior to re-entry, causing the spacecraft to enter at a squirrelly angle that potentially could have ended in disaster had the reentry module not been a sphere entirely covered in heat shielding.
    • During the early spaceflight years the explosive bolts and cable cutters were far from being a mature technologynote , so the Soviet engineers decided to err on the side of a caution, but unfortunately did it a bit too well. Early Soviet pyro devices (cable cutters in particular) turned out to be a bit underpowered, and a failure to cleanly severe a service module from the reentry capsule became something of an endemic bug, persisting well into the Soyuz run. Luckily the cables are usually the very first things to burn up during the reentry, so no real accidents happened due to them, but there's been a few harrowing near misses.
  • Soyuz 5 also failed to separate from its service module and was in fact still attached to it at re-entry, leading to a harrowing couple of minutes when the crew module was entering hatch first! Fortunately the service module gave way before the hatch melted and the unencumbered space craft turned itself heat shield first in the nick of time.
    • The heat shield of Soyuz incorporates a 60 kilo lead weight precisely for that purpose, so the capsule center of mass would be shifted to its bottom and aerodynamic forces on reentry would orient it into the correct attitude regardless of the capsule and the pilot state. It also serves as a heat absorber, allowing for the much steeper reentry angles without the shield melting on the way.
  • The Soviet safety issues regarding this trope inspired the Judica-Cordiglia brothers to make up radio recordings purportedly from cosmonauts burning to death upon reentry. Some people still point to it as an example of death coverups in the Soviet space program despite the fact that they were long since debunked by inconsistencies: For instance, audio transcripts reveal that all the cosmonauts, who were supposed to be Soviet air force pilots, did not follow standard communication protocols, such as identifying themselves when speaking or using the correct technical terminology. Likewise all the recordings contain disjointed sentences and grammatical errors that would have not been made by well-educated, Russian native speakers in the Soviet space program. Secondly, many of the technical details about the spacecraft heard in the recordings were incorrect for Soviet spacecraft, both contemporary and current. Lastly, the recordings were claimed to have been made during reentry, which was impossible given that back then they still hadn't figured out how to work around the communications blackout problem.
  • During the Curiosity probe's landing on Mars, the announcements at NASA's Space Command (which were publicly viewable via livestream) repeatedly stressed that a several minute communications blackout with the probe was expected, planned for, and not a cause for alarm, reassuring both the technicians and layman viewers that a re-entry scare was not currently happening. That said, there was extraordinary tension among the controllers until the probe's safe landing was confirmed.
  • STS-107 tragically burned up in re-entry when an accident at launch punched a suitcase-sized hole in the wing leading edge heat-shield but its fate was not immediately apparent in mission control. After contact was lost, Houston hailed the shuttle over and over again, growing increasingly concerned as the blackout, which does still happen during shuttle re-entries but normally clears after a few seconds didn't end after a minute, then two, then three, then eyewitness reports and amateur video started surfacing of multiple falling stars along the shuttle's flight path where there should have been only one big one...
    Columbia, Houston, comm check... Columbia, Houston, UHF comm check... Columbia, Houston, comm check...
  • Inverted with the disposal of the (robotic) spacecrafts Galileo and Cassini, where signal loss after entering into Jupiter's and Saturn's atmosphere respectively to never come back was something totally expected.