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Astronauts are usually prepared to land at a random place on Earth; in case the planned reentry burn fails, but by other means they achieve reentry trajectory, the orbital motion will pretty much randomize their landing place.

Voskhod 2, due to problems with activating the reentry engine, landed 386km from the intended landing site.

Apollo 13 didn't land at the originally planned site, but within sight distance of the site expected after adjusting the trajectory to the new mission plan.

What other missions landed way off target? Which landed farthest?

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  • $\begingroup$ There is an urban legend about a cosmonaut landed in China after a serious failure: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cosmonauts#Vladimir_Ilyushin $\endgroup$ – neptune Mar 3 '17 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ IIRC, Apollo 13 landed 384,400 km off target.:-) $\endgroup$ – TonyK Mar 3 '17 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ @TonyK And even with the wrong module... $\endgroup$ – Jens Mar 3 '17 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Jens They did not land in the LEM lol, neither on Moon nor on Earth. But it was more spaceworthy than the CSM on that flight. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Mar 4 '17 at 21:59
  • $\begingroup$ @DrZ214 I suspect Jens is referring to the fact that the first landing of the Apollo 13 mission was planned to be done with the LM, and only the second landing was supposed to be done with the CM. As the CM was used for the first landing of the Apollo 13 mission, the crew thus landed with the wrong module. QED. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Mar 4 '17 at 22:09
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I would like to make my own compilation that includes several missions not mentioned in any other answer so far. (The record is actually 483 km of Soyuz TMA-1, not the 475 km of Soyuz TMA-11.)

Gemini 5: splashed down 130 km off course due to programming error. Someone put in the rotation rate of Earth for the solar day instead of the sidereal day.

Voskhod 2: landed 382 km off course due to a delay caused by malfunction of the automatic re-entry system. This is probably the most dangerous off-course re-entry for several reasons. It came down over forest (Voskhod had braking rockets under its parachutes, triggered by a contact string hanging under the capsule, but fortunately the string did not hit a tree early). The capsule got wedged between two trees and was stuck in Siberian forest with bears, wolves, and cold weather for a day and a night. Helicopters at that time apparently could not lift them out nor land nearby due to heavy forest, so the crew had to ski out.

Mercury-Atlas 7: splashed down 400 km off course due to delays from pilot error.

Soyuz 5 had a ballistic re-entry due to failure to separate from the Orbital Module. I could not find how far off course it landed. This YouTube thing says "over 2,000 km" off course but I find that physically impossible as the other Soyuz missions suffering similar separation problems did not exceed 500 km off course. Spacefacts.de says "hundreds of kilometers short". Astronautix only says "far short of its aim point".

(Soyuz 5 landed very rough because of partial tangling of chute lines and failure of brake rockets. Cosmonaut Volynov broke several teeth from this, so it may be tied as the most dangerous off-course landing.)

Soyuz TMA-1 landed 483 km off course according to Spacefacts.de. It had a ballistic re-entry due to failure to separate from the Orbital Module.

Soyuz TMA-10 had a ballistic re-entry for the same reason and landed about 304 km off course.

Soyuz TMA-11: landed 475 km off course according to Wikipedia, and 428 km according to Spacefacts.de. Astronautix says "They landed 470 km short of the target point". The Wiki entry has no cite for its number. It is unclear how Spacefacts and Astronautix came up with their numbers. Soyuz TMA-11 suffered a ballistic re-entry for the same reasons as Soyuz TMA-10.

(There is also Soyuz 7K-T No. 39, also known as Soyuz 18a. It never made it to orbit, but it did go above 145 km and thus into space, so I'm not sure if we should count it. A failure in separating stage 1 (core) from stage 2 (highest stage) caused the rocket to go far off course, and the launch was aborted. The capsule came down over 1,000 km from the launch site, though I don't know how far away it was from the intended landing site.)

…Speaking of more separation failures…

Vostok 1, Vostok 2, and Vostok 5 all failed to separate their capsules from the service modules at the beginning of re-entry. Vostok 1 (the very first manned mission in space) landed 280 km off course. I could not find how far Vostok 2 and Vostok 5 landed off course. Is it possible that one of them went farther than 483 km? I don't know. But note that, in all Vostok missions, the lone pilot ejected before the capsule hit the ground. Both landed under parachute and it is not clear whether the Vostok 1 capsule or Yuri Gagarin landed 280 km from the planned site, nor is it clear how far apart the capsule landed from the pilot for any of those Vostok missions.

So for crewed missions that actually reached orbit and landed or splashed down intact, it is Soyuz TMA-1 (not 11) that landed the farthest off course… so far. There is still a chance that Soyuz 5 landed even farther off course, since I could not find the exact number.

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    $\begingroup$ Concerning Soyuz 5: According to Wikipedia, Soyuz 5 landed "near Orenburg/Russia". If we think that the NASA map of the Soyuz landing zone applied to Soyuz 5, Orenburg is more than 500 miles away. The city's surroundings are not forested though, Russain "near" is probably comparable to Texan "near", and the capsule reportedly landed "in the Ural mountains"; the southern Ural would be around 430 miles/700km from the landing zone. $\endgroup$ – Peter A. Schneider Mar 5 '17 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ We don't need to worry about what "near Orenburg" means because the wiki article says "The capsule came down in the Ural Mountains 2 kilometres southwest of Kustani." However, the Russian and German wikis on Soyuz 5 says "200 km southwest of Kostanay". Kostanay has an English wiki so we can see exactly where it is. But note the angle is not gonna be exactly SW. Could be anywhere between WSW and SSW. And we still don't know the exact coordinate of the planned landing site. I would not trust NASA's map except for modern Soyuz. I will look up landing sites of Soyuz 1 to 11 when I can. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Mar 5 '17 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mention Kustani because I could not find any information about it (meaning that there was nothing on the first page of a google search ;-). Interesting, the Ural is more than 200 miles away from Kostanay. Now that I read the Wikipedia articles again I realize they mention "Oblast Orenburg", which is the whole district with a length of 450 miles extending well to the south-east of the Ural. So it's possible to be close to that and 200 km from Kostanay. A location NW of a Kasachian place called Zhetikara, but across the border in Russia, would fit. $\endgroup$ – Peter A. Schneider Mar 5 '17 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ What is ballistic reentry? $\endgroup$ – David Grinberg Mar 6 '17 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidGrinberg It's a re-entry that doesn't use aerodynamic effects like lift to chance it's course. A plain cannonball will take a ballistic re-entry. Soyuz and Apollo and many others used a lifting re-entry, using lift to lessen g-forces. But sometimes that fails and Soyuz takes a much steeper re-entry that is ballistic. It's a pretty good question. I'd love to post a full answer if you wanna ask it. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Mar 6 '17 at 18:49
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Mercury Atlas 7, Aurora 7, splashed down an estimated 250 miles (402 km) off course, slightly more than Voskhod 2. The error was due to a problem with the automatic attitude controls and a late firing of the retro rockets by astronaut Scott Carpenter.

Passing over Hawaii at the final orbit, Kraft told Carpenter to begin his retrofire countdown and to shift from manual control to the automatic attitude control. Partly because he had been distracted watching the fireflies Carpenter noted that he had began his landing preparations late. As he started to align the spacecraft he found that the automatic stabilization system would not hold the required 34-degree pitch and zero-degree yaw attitude. While trying to determine the source of the trouble, he fell behind in his check of other items. When he hurriedly switched to the fly-by-wire control mode, he forgot to switch off the manual system. As a result, both systems were used redundantly together for 10 minutes, and fuel was wasted.

In addition to the attitude error, Carpenter also activated the retrorockets three seconds late, adding another 15 miles or so to the trajectory error. Due to lack of fuel Carpenter overshot his planned reentry mark and splashed down 250 miles (400 km) from target.

After several hours of frantic searching, Carpenter was located in an area northeast of Puerto Rico and taken aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid. Other than slight exhaustion, he was in good health and spirits and postflight medical exams did not find any significant physical changes or anomalies.

Carpenter never flew another mission.

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    $\begingroup$ Would he have likely flown another mission if this had not occurred? $\endgroup$ – Schlusstein Mar 3 '17 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Kraft was quoted as saying "that son-of-a-bitch will never fly for me again." $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Mar 3 '17 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ It's hard to say for sure, but probably not. Carpenter's performance was so low up to that point that it's very unlikely he would have been selected again. He ignored mission control directions to save fuel, even taping over the low fuel light so it wouldn't bother him. $\endgroup$ – GdD Mar 3 '17 at 13:08
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to add that Kraft's evaluation of Scott Carpenter's performance is controversial. science.time.com/2013/10/10/… $\endgroup$ – dasdingonesin Mar 3 '17 at 16:15
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Soyuz TMA-11 landed 475km from it's projected landing site after ballistic re-entry. Amazingly, no significant injuries were suffered by any of the crew.

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    $\begingroup$ Spacefacts says 425 km. Astronautix says 470 km. Wikipedia says 475 km but no cite. See my answer for the details and links. $\endgroup$ – DrZ214 Mar 4 '17 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DrZ214 Hmm, I guess I didn't dig far enough! I wonder if we'll ever know which of those figures is correct... $\endgroup$ – MTCoster Mar 6 '17 at 11:07
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Probably not quite what you had in mind, but Soyuz 7K-T No.39 ended up a long way from where they intended to land. During launch, the second stage failed to separate. The third stage ignition did get rid of the second stage, but damaged the booster and caused an automatic abort. The capsule landed in an unpopulated mountainous area near the Chinese border, about 1000 miles from the launch site and from the usual Soyuz landing area.

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Probably not what you had in mind, but...

Space Shuttle Challenger during STS-7 was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Due to weather it ended up landing at Edwards Air Force base in California - about 2,500 miles ways (June 24, 1983).

This was the first of several shuttle landings that were diverted to Edwards.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 Sometimes 2,500 miles off is closer than 0.3 miles... the KSC runway has no taxiway. This is why they let Clint Eastwood land the shuttle and kept Harrison Ford "... in a galaxy far, far away" $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 4 '17 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ This is still according to adjusted mission plan, not unplanned though. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 4 '17 at 1:08
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I would argue that Apollo 13 landed farthest off target. The majority of the crew expected to land on the Moon. While they did land within site of their objective (you can see the Moon from anyplace on Earth) they missed their intended destination by a greater distance (238,900 miles) then any other crewed flight to date.

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