Space-related fatalities


in Bombs and rockets, Politics, Science, Space and flight

I never appreciated just how hazardous spaceflight really was. Everyone knows about the Challenger, Columbia, and Apollo 13 disasters. Many people know about Apollo 1. I doubt anyone reading this is aware of all of these. Soyuz 23, for instance, crashed through the ice of Lake Tengiz and had the crew saved only through an elaborate underwater rescue. Apollo 12 was struck by lightning during launch and would have been destroyed if disabled computers in the crew compartment hadn’t had backups in the rocket itself.

Of the 439 people who have been strapped into a vehicle intended to eventually go into space, 22 (5%) have died as a result. American astronauts were statistically about four times as likely to die as their Soviet counterparts, though that is partly a result of how the large crew of the Space Shuttle means a catastrophic accident kills seven people. The Space Mirror Memorial in Florida commemorates Americans who have died in the space program; their cosmonaut contemporaries are buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. No Russian has died in relation to space travel since the fall of the Soviet Union, so it is unclear how they would be memorialized now.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. March 15, 2008 at 10:01 pm

“I never appreciated just how hazardous spaceflight really was.”

Strapping yourself to a giant bomb that propels you into a frozen and airless environment, before plunging you back through the atmosphere at ludicrous speed?

How could it be anything but dangerous?

. April 11, 2008 at 11:42 am

The fuel cask from the SNAP-27 unit carried by the Apollo 13 mission currently lies in 20,000 feet (6,500 m) of water at the bottom of the Tonga Trench in the Pacific Ocean. This mission failed to land on the moon, and the lunar module carrying its generator burnt up during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, with the trajectory was arranged so that the cask would land in the trench. The cask survived re-entry, as it was designed to do[2], and no release of plutonium has been detected. The corrosion resistant materials of the capsule are expected to contain it for 10 half-lives (870 years)

. September 17, 2009 at 5:03 pm

One-way to Mars = no way to Mars

The one-way-to-Mars idea has been around a long time, and as someone who ended his book on Mars with a section on the various ways in which making the voyage to that particular “other world” could be seen as chiming with the idea of making the voyage to the undoscover’d country of death I have a sense of why it might appeal. But even when it is championed by someone as smart as my friend Paul Davies, as is the case in today’s Guardian, it is still a silly idea. Here are extracts from Paul’s article with my comments

“I am not talking about a suicide mission. With its protective atmosphere, accessible water and carbon dioxide, and significant amounts of methane, Mars is one of the few places in the solar system that could support a human colony. By eliminating the need to transport heavy fuel and equipment for the return journey, costs could be slashed by 80% or more.”

Well you can make do without a return vehicle, sure. At the same time, you have to take or pre-position four years of supplies if you are to keep a straight face about it “not talking about a suicide mission” — two years to take you to the next resupply mission and two years to deal with the possibility that that resupply mission might fail. You have to take either more shelter or more tools for building shelter. You have to take a long term power supply — either a lot more photovoltaics than a short-term mission needs or a nuclear reactor. Again, if you are to say “not a suicide mission” with a straight face, back-ups for everything. And you still need to design a wholly new, large capacity entry descent and Landing system, which is a big challenge, and sort out how to stay ready-to-explore healthy on the trip out. The idea that leaving out just the return vehicle could in itself reduce costs by 80% seems extremely farfetched — even more so when your plan includes prepositioning the supplies and food. Why not preposition the return vehicle too, a la Mars Direct? Would that really increase the costs fourfold?

Most importantly, in terms of costs, there’s the ongoing commitment. A set of Mars missions you can cancel is a much more attractive than a set of Mars missions that you cannot cancel without killing people (“Launch the next rocket or the kid gets it”). To fund a single one way to Mars mission is more or less to sign up to funding them for as long as the colony lasts. That is a far larger spending commitment than required for a small number of return trips.

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