This tweet by ISS Archaeology (quote-tweeting Norishige Kanai) got me wondering: with all the accumulated time humans have spent in space, surely there have been disagreements, frustration, and conflict. How far have those gone?

I think I prefer conflicts that are solely between parties who are all in space, as opposed to space-to-ground conflicts, but either will suffice.

  • $\begingroup$ space.stackexchange.com/questions/17480/… is the closest question I could find while searching $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 25, 2018 at 21:41
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    $\begingroup$ Bear in mind that conflicts like this are something space agencies and astronauts prefer not to disclose to the public. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Feb 25, 2018 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ Do arguments between astro-/cosmonauts and ground control count, or only inter-astro-/cosmonaut strife? $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2018 at 22:51
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    $\begingroup$ Whoops, my reading-comprehension failure, sorry. :) $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2018 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ Should I edit the question to allay some of this discussion about the question being difficult to answer? Would "some of the most serious" (as the injuries question used) instead of "most serious" help? Or adding "that we know of?" Y'all aren't wrong, but...limited public knowledge in spaceflight topics is hardly unique to interpersonal conflicts. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 26, 2018 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


Interpersonal conflicts (including those occurring in space) are documented in a few of the franker astronaut memoirs, and a few other books. They are often heavily anonymized to avoid identification of the participants.

The extremely frank and highly recommended memoir by shuttle Mission Specialist Mike Mullane, Riding Rockets, lists a few in Chapter 24, Part Time Astronauts (referring to shuttle Payload Specialists (PS))

  • One shuttle commander became extremely concerned about a PS's interest in the side hatch opening mechanism.

    If the handle was ever turned to the open position in space, the hatch would explode outward, immediately decompressing the cockpit and killing everyone aboard. Knowing this, how would you feel if a person you really didn't know took an unusual interest in the hatch opening mechanism?

    A padlock, with the key held by the commander, was placed on the hatch mechanism in subsequent missions.

  • Another PS became depressed because their experiment failed on orbit.

    In debriefing, the commander summarized the situation he had faced: "I had a depressed, crying, constipated PS on my hands. I thought I was going to have to place him under a suicide watch."

The Ars Technica article What happens when an astronaut in orbit says he's not coming back? expands some on the payload specialist incidents.

The well-researched book Dragonfly by Bryan Burrough contains long descriptions of the conflicts between US Shuttle/Mir crewmembers and their Russian hosts. Too long to summarize here, but rooted in the different attitudes of the hosts and guests towards what roles they should play.

The bad feelings between Linenger and Tsibliyev almost resulted in the cancellation of an EVA. A NASA support person is quoted as saying "Jerry and Tsibliyev didn't talk before the EVA. The guys have to work together, and they didn't work together. If you don't talk ahead of time, and don't choreograph, it's not going to be pretty."

  • $\begingroup$ They could've probably omitted the constipated part-- I realize its anonymous, but that doesnt seem to outweigh the depression of a failed experiment hah. $\endgroup$ Aug 18, 2018 at 4:16

Consider this dramatization of Apollo 13 as an explanation of why it is probable we don't know what the most heated argument has ever been in space:

Astronauts worry about how ground control's perception of their performance will affect their opportunities to fly again. Space agencies worry about how the public's perception of their performance will affect their budgets.

In Packing for Mars, in chapter 2 author Mary Roach quotes Norbert Kraft (who now is the chief medical officer of Mars One) talking about events during his participation in an isolation experiment to evaluate factors in a crew's behaviour on a long deep space mission. The experiment, by the Russian Institute of Medical and Bioogical Problems, lasted 110 days:

...when Russian men bloody each other's noses, it's a 'friendly fight'. (Kraft confirmed this surprising item. "It's how they settle disputes. They did it on Mir.")

Now, he didn't elaborate (or didn't give Roach permission to reveal more), and that's hearsay only. However, in the same part of the book, Roach talks about multiple sources reporting vodka and cognac were very commonly smuggled aboard Russian missions, and the first part of the above quote was a comment by Valery Gushin, a psychologist with the Institute that did the isolation study.

The crew of Soyuz T-14 returned to Earth from Salyut 7 several months early because the mission's commander, Vladimir Vasyutin, was ill. There have been varying reports that the illness was prostate infection, and depression, but this British Interplanetary Society article seems to present the full picture from the crew itself:

All of a sudden, the look on Volodya Vasyutin’s face changed and he stopped talking... The irritation that this conversation caused caught my attention. Before bedtime he floated over to me and started talking about his health... On 16 October Savinykh wrote he was concerned about what he described as Vasyutin’s ‘old ailment’, which Vasyutin confided to him had begun after underwater EVA training in the hydrotank at Star City. However, they decided not to consult with Mission Control before the spacewalk and press ahead with EVA preparations. Savinykh also noticed signs of depression and irritation: ‘The music irritates him. I’m curing him with medicine and advice. The best medicine is work.’ Another two weeks later Vasyutin’s condition had deteriorated to the point that the cosmonauts had no choice but to report the situation to Mission Control.

The salient thing here is that the crew only reported this serious illness after they felt they had no choice. So, this seems to suggest there are many things they don't report at all. Ground control finally elected to terminate the mission three weeks later after all further attempts to treat the condition failed - and it isn't like the crew hadn't already tried using the medications on board. One of those attempts included bringing in a psychic. There has been a lot of airing of opinions that the main issue was really depression, not infection. Roscosmos was not at all pleased and considered witholding the traditional awards given to cosmonauts who fly missions.

The crew of Skylab 4 staged a one-day 'strike' in which they refused to work on the grounds they were exhausted because ground control had been pushing them too hard. The three rookie astronauts on that crew - Jerry Carr, Edward Gibson, and Bill Pogue, never flew again. Pogue and Gibson left NASA within 2 years of the mission. This may have been for personal reasons and not to do with any possible impact on their career caused by their little mutiny. Still, it is the kind of thing other prospective astronauts might well see as a cause-effect relationship.

Based on the above, I assert that probably we don't know what the most serious interpersonal conflict in space has been, because what happens in space, stays in space.

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate that we don't have complete knowledge of these conflicts, but I'm more interested in what we do know (since we appear to know of some). This is a VERY good treatment of the limits of our knowledge, though. Much appreciated and +1. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 26, 2018 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ @ErinAnne I corrected the part about the Salyut mission having been ended by the cosmonauts without permission. It was actually cleared by ground control, but they were ticked off about it. The article is quite good, i hadn't finished reading it all. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Feb 26, 2018 at 1:07
  • $\begingroup$ Note that the Skylab 4 "strike" is exaggerated; the crew "rested" (still working but at a reduced page) on what had been a scheduled rest day rather than working through as they and previous crews had done on other rest days; they accidentally went a couple of hours without answering calls from mission control because each crew member believed one of the others was handling comms, but didn't deliberately refuse communications. $\endgroup$ May 18, 2019 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ More on the Skylab 4 "strike". $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 18:58

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