#2. Real-Life Action Movie Explosion
Cosmonauts are a rocket-propelled zen paradox. Surely anyone with cojones big enough to sit on an explosion into space has cojones too big to be lifted into space in the first place. But while mere gods might sit around wondering about things like that, cosmonauts get on with it. And have provably been to the heavens.
In fact, there are very few things more provable than "firing a rocket engine."
In another anomaly of awesomeness, the only thing more dangerous than sitting on a detonating bomb is trying to get away from it because the escape system violates the second thing they teach you in cosmonaut school. Escaping the giant rocket directly under your ass is lighting more rockets directly above your head. Even the connections between these multiple rockets are made of explosive bolts, because every single part of a spacecraft is awesome. Spacecrafts are anti-action movies: a series of massive explosions going off for intelligent reasons and making the human race smarter.
A test of the Apollo escape system. Note the unusual "crew-broiling" configuration.
This system inflicts over 17 times Earth's gravity on the crew. Only Commander Vladimir Titov and Flight Engineer Gennady Strekalov have ever endured it. Behold:
Michael Bay would call that cutting things close, then cover the screen with a close-up of an insect-robot's crotch.
The only time this system was used was the Soyuz T-10-1 launch, where a single valve didn't work perfectly. Unfortunately, it was the "keep kerosene inside the rocket" valve. The pad and rocket ignited, then proved that even the fires on spaceships are smarter than normal by immediately burning through the cables for the launch escape system. Neither launch control nor the cosmonauts could trigger the escape system. The backup had to be triggered by two engineers in separate rooms in a building 30 kilometers away, because the security system was apparently designed by the same hack screenwriter who scripted the explosion. They made it with two seconds to spare.
#1. John Aaron Calls Zeus' Bluff
Apollo 12 was The Most Amazing Thing We Ever Did: The Sequel, and inside a minute it was going straight to hell. When you're carrying thousands of tons of rocket fuel and liquid oxygen, that description can become literally accurate. Especially the screaming in lakes of burning fire. Every screen in Mission Control was suddenly scrambled, and the astronaut alarm panel lit up like a self-destructing Christmas tree.
Listen to the astronaut error report at 1:21 in this video:
It would have been faster for the astronauts to list what was still working. "Well, the seats are still screwed into the capsule, and we're also screwed in the capsule." NASA isn't keen on flying bombs over civilian populations (because having a space program is the good parts of large government). If they couldn't fix it, they'd be forced to self-destruct the Apollo 12, and with it the future of the entire space program. Flight Controller John Aaron fixed it in 59 seconds. He saved space in less time than it takes to boil an egg.
You might wonder why his title doesn't say "genius and awesome person," then you realize that IT DOES.
Aaron instructed the crew, "Switch SCE to AUX," and if that sounds like gibberish, now you have something in common with the flight director, capsule communicator, and astronaut commander of Apollo 12. This was a minor subsystem in no way designed to do what Aaron was now telling it to, and so obscure that in a building full of rocket scientists, he was the only one who knew about it. Astronaut Commander Pete Conrad radioed back from the screaming capsule with the highly technical query of "What the hell is that?"
Luckily, astronaut Alan Bean knew exactly what the hell it was, because at that moment it was the difference between "Rocket GO" and "Rocket GO BOOM."
The rest was awesome history.
How you feel about this image is how the future will feel about you.
Later analysis revealed that the Saturn V SA 507 had been struck by lightning. Twice. That's how badass astronauts are -- they do things so extreme that they don't even notice being multiply electrocuted from the sky. For most people, "continuing after being struck by lightning" isn't a decision they get to make. The strikes arced down through the spaceship, conducted by the ionized column of fire from the boosters and grounding through the launch tower. The entire launch process had created an immense lightning conductor. The astronauts were riding a massive middle finger made of metal and plasma straight at the gods, and when Zeus himself tried to fight back, it wasn't enough.
All thanks to one of the support staff, the people who defeat the sky by studying at it. John Aaron became a legend, nicknamed the "Steely-Eyed Missile Man" back when that was a compliment and not an adult film alias. And when a building full of moon-landing rocket scientists calls you the missile man, that's when God starts gathering his stuff so you can take his seat as master of the heavens.
For more incredible space coolness, check out 6 Badass Spacecraft Landings Humanity Totally Nailed and 6 Mind-Blowing Things Nobody Taught You About Black Holes.