Fatalities in Human Space Flight

Fatalities in Human
Space Flight
Sheila Hopper
Spaceflight Fatalities
439 individuals have flown on spaceflights:
Russia/Soviet Union (96), USA (277), others (66).
Twenty-two have died while in a spacecraft: Apollo 1 (3),
Soyuz 1 (1), X-15-3 (1), Soyuz 11 (3), Challenger (7),
Columbia (7), totaling 18 astronauts (4.1%) and 4
cosmonauts (0.9% of all the people launched).
If Apollo 1 and X-15-3 are included as
spaceflights, 5% (or 22) of the 439 have
died on spaceflights.
Spaceflight Fatalities
In flight accidents have killed 18 astronauts
Training accidents have claimed at least 11
Launchpad accidents have killed at least 70
ground crew
About 2% of the manned launch/reentry
attempts have killed their crew
About 5% of the people that have been
launched have died doing so
Cosmonaut Fatalities
The Soviet/Russian program has had two fatal
missions for a total of four in-flight fatalities.
One (Soyuz 1, 1967) due to parachute failure
during landing (there were other problems, but
this was the fatal failure), and the other
(Soyuz 11, 1971) when a valve stuck open
during separation of the descent module
during reentry
Of all fatal spaceflights by any country (as of
2006), only the crew of Soyuz 11 actually died
in space.
In addition, the Soviet program suffered 2
mission-ending launch aborts that were
potentially fatal.
In-flight Accidents
There have been five fatal in-flight accidents. In each case all crew were killed.
April 24, 1967: parachute failure: Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir
Komarov died on board Soyuz 1. His one-day mission had been
plagued by a series of mishaps with the new type of spacecraft,
which ended by the capsule's parachute not opening after
reentry. Komarov was killed when the capsule hit the ground.
1967 Nov 15: control failure: Michael J Adams.
Adams died while piloting a suborbital spaceflight in a rocket plane. Major
Adams was a U.S. Air Force pilot in the NASA/USAF X-15 program.
During X-15 Flight 191, his seventh flight, the plane first had an
electrical problem and then developed control problems. The pilot may
also have become disoriented. During reentry from 266,000 ft, the X-15
yawed sideways out of control and went into a spin at a speed of Mach
5, from which the pilot never recovered.
Whether or not the incident technically
counts as a "spaceflight accident" can be
disputed, given that the flight fell short
of the internationally recognized 100
km boundary of space.
1971 June 30: crew exposed to vacuum of space :
The crew of Soyuz 11, Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev and
Vladislav Volkov, were killed after undocking from space station
Salyut after a three-week stay. A valve on their spacecraft had
accidentally opened when the service module separated, letting
their air leak out into space. The capsule reentered and landed
normally, and their deaths were only discovered when it was
opened by the recovery team.
1986 January 28: spacecraft broke
apart on takeoff:
The first U.S. in-flight fatalities. The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds
after launch. Challenger was thrown sideways into the Mach 1.8 windstream causing it to
break up in midair with the loss of all seven crew members aboard: Greg Jarvis, Christa
McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, and Dick
Scobee. NASA investigators determined they may have survived the initial explosion but,
became possibly unconscious from anoxia, were killed when the largely intact cockpit hit
the water at 200 mph.
2003 February 1: spacecraft broke apart on re-entry:
The space shuttle Columbia was lost as it reentered after a two-week mission, STS-107.
Damage to the shuttle's thermal protection system led to structural failure in the
shuttle's left wing and, ultimately, the spacecraft breaking apart. Investigations after the
tragedy revealed the damage to the reinforced carbon-carbon leading edge wing panel
had resulted from a piece of insulation foam breaking away from the external tank
during the launch and hitting shuttle's wing. Rick D. Husband, William McCool, Michael
P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon were
Training Accidents
1961 March 23: fire on board: First spacerelated casualty. Valentin Bondarenko
was in training in a special low-pressure
chamber with a pure oxygen atmosphere.
He accidentally dropped an alcoholsoaked cloth onto an electric hotplate. In
the pure oxygen environment, the fire
quickly engulfed the entire chamber.
Bondarenko was barely alive when the
chamber was opened, and died of his
burns shortly after being hospitalized. At
the time of the accident, Bondarenko's
death had been covered up by the Soviet
government and was not known about in
the U.S. Many materials become
explosively flammable in pure oxygen;
modern spacecraft use mixtures of
continuously replaced oxygen and
nitrogen. It has been speculated that
knowledge of Bondarenko's death might
have led to changes that would have
prevented the Apollo 1 fire.
1964 October 31: birdstrike:
Theodore Freeman was killed when a
goose smashed through the cockpit
canopy of his T-38 jet trainer. Flying
shards of Plexiglas entered the
engine intake and caused the
engine to flameout. Freeman
ejected from the stricken aircraft,
but was too close to the ground for
his parachute to open properly.
1966, 28 February: crash on
The Gemini 9 crew, Elliott See and
Charles Bassett, were killed while
attempting to land their T-38 in bad
weather. See misjudged his
approach and crashed into the
McDonnell aircraft factory.
1967 January 27: Fire Onboard
A fire claimed the lives of the Apollo 1 crew as they
trained in their capsule. An electrical fault sparked the
blaze that spread quickly in a pure oxygen atmosphere,
killing Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.
1967 October 5: controls failed:
Clifton Williams died after a
mechanical failure caused his T-38's
controls to stop responding. He had
been assigned to the back-up crew
for what would be the Apollo 9
mission and would have most likely
been assigned as Lunar Module
pilot for Apollo 12. The Apollo 12
mission patch has four stars on it:
one each for the three astronauts
who flew the mission and one for
1967, 8 December: plane crash:
Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. was
named the first African-American
astronaut for the U.S. Air Force
Manned Orbiting Laboratory
program, but he never made it into
space. He died when his F-104
Starfighter jet crashed at Edwards
Air Force Base, California.
1968 March 27: Plane Crash
First man in space Yuri Gagarin died when his MiG-15 jet trainer crashed
while he prepared for the Soyuz 3 mission. An official report at the time
blamed either birdstrike or that he turned too fast to avoid something in the
air. But in 2003 it came out that the KGB had found that the official report
was false and that the truth was negligence by an airforce colonel on the
ground, who gave an out-of-date weather report; the flight
needed good weather, but the cloud base was
nearly at ground level. Since Gagarin was a hero
the soviet propaganda engine at that time found
it bad publicity to have him killed in a mere
training accident and so several newspapers
printed the report that he actually died heroically
testing a top-secret prototype. This again led to
speculation amongst western conspiracy-proponents
whether Gagarin had not died in hushed-up
spacecraft accident.
Ground crew and On-ground
Civilian fatalities
1964: While technicians worked on the Orbiting Solar Observatory,
in an assembly room at Cape Canaveral, a Delta rockets third-stage
motor had just been mated to the spacecraft in preparation for some
prelaunch tests. Suddenly the rocket ignited, filling the workroom
with searing hot gases, burning 11 engineers and technicians, 3 of
them fatally. An investigation following the accident showed that a
spark of static electricity had probably set off the fuse that ignited the
solid propellant.
1973: Nine technicians were killed in a launch pad accident at
Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.
1980: 48 technicians were killed by an explosion while fueling a
Vostok-2M booster at Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.
1981: During preparations for STS-1, at the end of the 33-hour-long
Shuttle Dry Countdown Demonstration Test, Columbia's aft engine
compartment was under a nitrogen purge to prevent the buildup of
oxygen and hydrogen gases from the propulsion system. Six
technicians entered the aft engine compartment and five of the six
lost consciousness due to the lack of oxygen in the compartment.
Two died. John Gerald Bjornstad, a 50-year-old Rockwell employee,
was pronounced dead at the scene, and Forrest Cole was brought
to the hospital where he later died.
Ground crew and On-ground
Civilian fatalities
1995: The European Space Agency (ESA) lost two workers in a fatal
accident at the Kourou Space Centre, Guiana, at the Ariane 5
launch facility. Luc Celle and Jean-Claude Dhainaut lost their lives
during an inspection in the umbilical mast of the launchpad. A later
report said, "...the cause of death was asphyxiation through
inhalation of air having an excessively low oxygen content; the
reduced oxygen content was due to a major nitrogen leak into the
confined structure of the umbilical mast on the launch table; the
nitrogen leak originated in a nitrogen/iced-water exchanger, whose
drainage plug was found to be missing."
1996: A Long March 3B rocket veered off course two seconds after
takeoff from Xichang Satellite Launch Center, crashing into a nearby
village. The Chinese news agency Xinhua reported that 80 homes
had been damaged with six people killed and 57 injured, but
unofficial reports and videotape from people who visited the scene
suggested much greater devastation and a significantly higher death
2001: Boeing worker Bill Brooks was killed in an industrial
accident at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 37. He was a
crane operator involved in construction of the new Delta IV
launch complex. The Delta IV launch site is being built at the
location of the old Saturn IB launch complex.
2002: A Soyuz U carrying a science payload began
disintegrating 20 seconds after launch from Plesetsk,
exploded nine seconds later and showered debris around the
launch site. The explosion killed 20-year-old soldier Ivan
Marchenko, who had been watching the launch from behind a
large glass window in a processing facility a kilometer from
the launchpad. Eight other soldiers who were with Marchenko
were injured, six being hospitalized. Rocket fragments fell in
the woods in the same area starting a forest fire, and a Block
D strap-on booster which came off during disintegration
impacted the launchpad, causing structural damage.
2003: An unmanned rocket set to carry two satellites into orbit
exploded on its launchpad in Brazil killing 21 technicians.
American astronauts that have lost their lives in the line of duty are
memorialized by the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space
Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida. Cosmonauts that
have died in the line of duty in the Soviet Union were generally
honored by burial at the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Moscow. It is
unknown whether this remains tradition for Russia, since the Kremlin
Wall Necropolis was largely a Communist honor and no cosmonauts
have died in action since the Union fell.
Fallen Astronaut
aluminum sculpture of an astronaut in a spacesuit. It is the only piece of art on the
Moon. In 1971, Fallen Astronaut was placed on the Moon by the crew of Apollo 15, along
with a plaque bearing the names of fourteen American astronauts and Russian
cosmonauts who died during spaceflights or training exercises.
Work Cited
McNamara, Bernard. Into the Final Frontier: The Human
Exploration of Space. Brooks Cole, 2000
“Space Disaster” Wilkpedia (2006): August 1, 2006