The Soyuz T-10-1 mission (often called Soyuz T-10a in the West) was intended to visit the Salyut 7 space station, which was occupied by the Soyuz T-9 crew. However, it never even finished its launch countdown; the launch vehicle was destroyed on the launch pad by fire. Fortunately, the launch escape system of the Soyuz spacecraft fired two seconds before the launch vehicle exploded, saving the crew. It is so far the only case in which a launch escape system fired on the pad with a crew aboard.
Shortly before the planned liftoff, fuel spilled around the base of the Soyuz launch vehicle and caught fire at T-90 seconds. The launch control team activated the escape system but the control cables had already burned, and the Soyuz crew could not activate or control the escape system themselves. Twenty seconds later, launch control was finally able to activate the escape system by radio command, by which time the booster was engulfed in flames. Explosive bolts fired to separate the descent module from the service module and the upper launch shroud from the lower. Then the escape system motor fired, dragging the orbital module and descent module, encased within the upper shroud, free of the booster with an acceleration of 14 to 17g (137 to 167 m/s²) for five seconds. Two seconds after the escape system activated, the booster rocket exploded, destroying the launch complex (which was, incidentally, the one used to launch Sputnik 1 and Vostok 1). Four paddle-shaped stabilizers on the outside of the shroud opened and the descent module separated from the orbital module at an altitude of 650 m, dropping free of the shroud. The descent module discarded its heat shield, exposing the solid-fuel landing rockets, and deployed a fast-opening emergency parachute. Landing occurred about four kilometers from the launch pad. The two crew members were badly bruised after the high acceleration, but had survived.
The failure's immediate result was the inability to replace the aging Soyuz T-9 return capsule attached to the Salyut 7 space station. This led to overblown reports in the Western media about the cosmonauts remaining aboard Salyut 7 (which had arrived several months before in the T-9) being 'stranded' in space, with no ability to return.
Years later, in an interview with the American History Channel regarding the flight, Titov claimed that the crew's first action after the escape rocket fired was to deactivate the spacecraft's cockpit voice recorder because, as he put it, "We were swearing."