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Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrates 73 seconds after launch, due to hot gases escaping the SRBs leading to structural failure of the external tank. The accident resulted in the death of all seven crewmembers.

There have been a number of Spaceflight accidents and incidents in the history of spaceflight. In particular, incidents during human spaceflight missions have resulted in 18 astronaut fatalities, as of 2010.[1][nb 1] Additionally, there have been some astronaut fatalities during other spaceflight-related activities, such as the Apollo 1 launch pad fire which killed all three crew members. There have also been some non-astronaut fatalities during spaceflight-related activities.

This article provides an overview of all known fatalities and near-fatalities that occurred during manned space missions, accidents during astronaut training and during the testing, assembling or preparing for flight of manned and unmanned spacecraft. Not included are fatalities occurring during intercontinental ballistic missile accidents, and Soviet or German rocket-fighter projects of World War II.[clarification needed] Also not included are alleged unreported Soviet space accidents that are not believed by mainstream historians to have occurred.

Astronaut fatalities during spaceflight

(In the statistics below, "astronaut" is applied to all space travellers to avoid the use of "astronaut/cosmonaut".)
This article needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (March 2010)

The history of space exploration has had a number of incidents that resulted in the deaths of the astronauts during a space mission. As of 2010, in-flight accidents have killed 18 astronauts, in four separate incidents.[nb 2]

NASA astronauts who have lost their lives in the line of duty are memorialized at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, Florida. Cosmonauts who have died in the line of duty under the auspices of 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 Soviet Union fell.

There have been four fatal in-flight accidents on missions which were considered spaceflights under the internationally accepted definition of the term, plus one on the ground during rehearsal of a planned flight. In each case all crew were killed. To date, there has never been an incident where an individual member of a multi-member crew has died during (or while rehearsing) a mission.

Incident Date Mission Fatalities Description
Parachute failure 1967 April 24 Soyuz 1 Soviet Union Vladimir Komarov The one-day mission had been plagued by a series of mishaps with the new type of spacecraft, which culminated in the capsule's parachute not opening properly after atmospheric reentry. Komarov was killed when the capsule hit the ground at high speed.
Crew exposed to vacuum of space 1971 June 30 Soyuz 11 Soviet Union Georgi Dobrovolski
Soviet Union Viktor Patsayev
Soviet Union Vladislav Volkov
The crew of Soyuz 11 were killed after undocking from space station Salyut 1 after a three-week stay. A valve on their spacecraft had accidentally opened when the service module separated, which was only discovered when the module was opened by the recovery team. Technically the only fatalities in space (above 100 km).
Space Shuttle Challenger disaster 1986 January 28 STS-51-L United States Greg Jarvis
United States Christa McAuliffe
United States Ronald McNair
United States Ellison Onizuka
United States Judith Resnik
United States Michael J. Smith
United States Dick Scobee
The first U.S. multiple in-flight fatalities. The Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after lift-off on STS-51-L. Analysis of the accident showed that a faulty O-ring seal had allowed hot gases from the shuttle solid rocket booster (SRB) to weaken the external propellant tank, and also the strut that held the booster to the tank. The tank aft region failed, causing it to begin disintegrating. The SRB strut also failed, causing the SRB to rotate inward and expedite tank breakup. 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. NASA investigators determined they may have survived during the spacecraft disintegration, while possibly unconscious from hypoxia; at least some of them tried to protect themselves by activating their emergency oxygen. Any survivors of the breakup were killed, however, when the largely intact cockpit hit the water at 200 mph (320 km/h).
Space Shuttle Columbia disaster 2003 February 1 STS-107 United States Rick D. Husband
United States William McCool
United States Michael P. Anderson
United States David M. Brown
United States Kalpana Chawla
United States Laurel B. Clark
Israel Ilan Ramon
The Space Shuttle Columbia was lost as it reentered at the end of a two-week mission, STS-107. Damage to the shuttle's thermal protection system (TPS) led to structural failure in the shuttle's left wing and, ultimately, the spacecraft broke 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.

There has also been a single accident on a flight which was considered a spaceflight by those involved in conducting it, but not under the internationally accepted definition:

Average deaths per spaceflight

There are various ways of measuring the danger of spaceflight based on comparing the number of fatalities to the number of non-fatal spaceflights.

About two percent of the manned launch/reentry attempts have killed their crew, with Soyuz and the Shuttle having almost the same death percentage rates. Except for the X-15 (which is a suborbital rocket plane), other launchers have not launched sufficiently often for reasonable safety comparisons to be made.

About five percent of the people that have been launched have died doing so. As of November 2004, 439 individuals have flown on spaceflights: Russia/Soviet Union (96), USA (277), others (66).[citation needed] Twenty-two have died while in a spacecraft: three on Apollo 1, one on Soyuz 1, one on X-15-3, three on Soyuz 11, seven on Challenger, and seven on Columbia. By space program, 18 NASA astronauts (4.1%) and four Russian cosmonauts (0.9% of all the people launched) died while in a spacecraft.[needs update]

Soyuz accidents have claimed the lives of four cosmonauts. No deaths have occurred on Soyuz missions since 1971, and none with the current design of the Soyuz. Including the early Soyuz design, the average deaths per launched crew member on Soyuz are currently under two percent. However, there have also been several serious injuries, and some other incidents in which crews nearly died.


Apart from actual disasters, a number of missions resulted in some very near misses and also some training accidents that nearly resulted in deaths. In-flight near misses have included various reentry mishaps (in particular on Soyuz 5), the sinking of the Mercury 4 capsule, and the Voskhod 2 crew spending a night in dense forest surrounded by wolves.

Training accidents

Test pilot Stuart Present ejects safely from the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle. Neil Armstrong also made such an ejection. (NASA)
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another article titled Spaceflight training accidents. (Discuss) (March 2010)

In addition to accidents during spaceflights, astronauts have experienced accidents during training. Training accidents have resulted in 10 astronaut deaths.[nb 1]

Fatal accidents with ground crew and civilian fatalities

It has been suggested that this section be split out into another article titled Spaceflight ground support fatalities. (Discuss) (March 2010)
The neutrality of this section is disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until conditions to do so are met. (March 2010) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

Launchpad accidents have killed at least 71 ground personnel. ((citation)): Empty citation (help)[needs update]

Date Place Death(s) Kind of disaster
May 17, 1930 Berlin, Germany 1 Max Valier killed by rocket engine explosion
October 10, 1933 Germany 3 Explosion in rocket manufacturing room of Tiling
July 16, 1934 Kummersdorf, Germany 3 Ground test engine explosion
1944? Tuchola Forest, German-occupied Poland 7 An A4-rocket crashes at a test launch in a trench. Several soldiers who were in the trench were killed.
Oct 24, 1960 Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan 120? The Nedelin catastrophe
April 14, 1964 Cape Canaveral, USA 3 Delta rocket ignited in assembly room, killing 3 technicians and injuring 9 others. The ignition was caused by a spark of static electricity[24]
May 7, 1964 Braunlage, West Germany 3 Mail rocket built by Gerhard Zucker exploded and debris hit crowd of spectators.[25]
June 26, 1973 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, USSR 9 Launch explosion of Kosmos-3M rocket
March 18, 1980 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, USSR 48 Explosion while fueling up a Vostok-2M rocket[26]
March 19, 1981 Cape Canaveral, USA 2 Anoxia due to nitrogen atmosphere in the aft engine compartment of Columbia during preparations for STS-1. Five casualties; three were revived. Killed: John Bjornstad and Forrest Cole.[27][28][29]
February 27, 1993 Esrange, Sweden 1 A technician from Sweden was killed when a sounding rocket ignited during testing of its ignition system at the European Sounding Rocket Range (Esrange), located outside the town of Kiruna in northern Sweden.[30]
January 26, 1995 Xichang, China 6+ Long March rocket veered off course after launch [1]
May 5, 1995 Guiana Space Centre, French Guyana 2 Anoxia; Luc Celle and Jean-Claude Dhainaut died during an inspection in the umbilical mast of the launchpad. [31][32]
February 15, 1996 Xichang, China 56-200 Intelsat 708 Satellite, a Long March rocket, veered off course 2 seconds after launch, crashing in the nearby village and destroying 80 houses, according to the official Chinese count, killing 56 people, but with U.S. defense intelligence officials estimating 200 dead.[citation needed]
July, 2001 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 A worker was killed in an industrial accident at Launch Complex 37 after being struck on the head by a high pressure pipe. This accident mentioned in reference article to crane accident listed below.[33]
October 1, 2001 Cape Canaveral, USA 1 Crane operator Bill Brooks was killed in an industrial accident at Launch Complex 37[34]
October 15, 2002 Plesetsk Cosmodrome, Russia 1 A Soyuz-U exploded 29 seconds after launch, killing a soldier, Ivan Marchenko, and injuring 8 others. Fragments of the rocket started a forest fire nearby, and a Block D strap-on booster caused damage to the launchpad.[35]
August 22, 2003 Alcântara, Brazil 21 Explosion of an unmanned rocket during launch preparations (see Brazilian rocket explosion)[36]
July 26, 2007 Mojave Spaceport, California 3 Explosion during a test of rocket systems by Scaled Composites during a nitrous oxide injector test[37]

See also


  1. ^ a b p.143,[2] Cite error: The named reference "10training" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  2. ^ p.143,[2]


  1. ^ William Harwood (2005). "Astronaut fatalities". Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  2. ^ a b c Gary Eugene Musgrave, Axel Larsen, Tommaso Sgobba (2009). Satefy Design of Space Systems. Butterworth–Heinemann. p. 992.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ - The Crash of X-15A-3
  4. ^ "Pilot Killed As X-15 Falls From Altitude Of 50 Miles", Toledo Blade newspaper, Nov. 16, 1967
  5. ^ "Space Cabin Sinks After Hatch 'Blows'", Salt Lake City, UT - Deseret News, Jul. 21, 1961
  6. ^ "Astronaut Feared 'Break-Up'", The Miami News, Mar. 27, 1966
  7. ^ NASA's official report (REPORT OF APOLLO 13 REVIEW BOARD) does not use the word "explosion" in describing the tank failure. Rupture disks and other safety measures were present to prevent a catastrophic explosion, and analysis of pressure readings and subsequent ground-testing determined that these safety measures worked as designed. See findings 26 and 27 on page 195 (5-22) of the NASA report.
  8. ^ "Magnitude Of Apollo 13 Damage Astounded Crew", Lodi, CA News-Sentinel, Apr. 18, 1970
  9. ^ "Brand Takes Blame For Apollo Gas Leak", Florence, AL - Times Daily newspaper, Aug. 10, 1975
  10. ^
  11. ^ Russia probes Soyuz capsule's perilous re-entry, CNN', April 23, 2008
  12. ^ Eckel, Mike, Russian news agency says Soyuz crew was in danger on descent, Associated Press, April 23, 2008
  13. ^ Morring, Frank, NASA Urges Caution On Soyuz Reports, Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 23, 2008
  14. ^ "Crash Kills Astronaut", Richland, WA - Tri City Herald, Nov. 1, 1964
  15. ^ "2 Astronauts Die In Plane Crash", The Tuscaloosa News, Feb. 28, 1966
  16. ^ "Williams Wanted To Be First On The Moon", St. Petersburg, FL - Evening Independent newspaper, Oct. 6, 1967
  17. ^ "Air Crash Kills Astro", Nashua, NH - Telegraph newspaper, Dec. 9, 1967
  18. ^ "Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin Dies in Training-Flight Crash", The Southeast Missourian newspaper, Mar. 26, 1968
  19. ^ "Jet Moon Flight Trainer Crashes", St. Petersburg, FL Times newspaper, May 7, 1968
  20. ^ "Moon Lander Crashes In Final Major Test", Oxnard, CA - The Press-Courier, Dec. 9, 1968
  21. ^ "Test Pilot Ejects Safely As Lunar Lander Crashes", Toledo Blade newspaper, Jan. 30, 1971
  22. ^ "Astronaut Cernan Survives Helicopter Crash In River", Spartanburg, SC - Herald-Journal, Jan. 24, 1971
  23. ^ - The 1971 Crash of Gene Cernan's Helo
  24. ^ "Cape Probes Reason For Tragedy", The Miami News, Apr 15, 1964
  25. ^ "German's 'air mail' idea goes up in smoke",, Sep 16, 2005
  26. ^ "Soviet rocket blast left 48 dead", BBC News, Apr 8, 2000
  27. ^ NASA - 1981 KSC Chronology Part 1 - pages 84, 85, 100; Part 2 - pages 181, 194, 195,
  28. ^ Sam Kean, The Disappearing Spoon (2010), p. 188
  29. ^ "One Dead In Shuttle Accident", Spartanburg, SC - Herald-Journal Newspaper, Mar 20, 1981
  30. ^ "1 killed as rocket goes wild", Reading Eagle newspaper, February 28, 1993
  31. ^ "Fatal accident at the Guiana Space Centre", ESA Portal, May 5, 1993
  32. ^ "Submission of Enquiry Board's provisional report on fatal accident at Guiana Space Centre", ESA Portal, Nov 30, 1993
  33. ^ "Worker Killed by Falling Pipe at LC 37",, Oct 3, 2001
  34. ^ "Crane Accident Kills Boeing Worker at Cape",, Oct 3, 2001
  35. ^ "Russian Space Rocket Explodes, One Killed", Daily News newspaper, Oct. 17, 2002
  36. ^ "Rocket explosion kills 21 in Brazil", Boston Globe, Aug 23, 2003
  37. ^ Walker, Peter, "Three die in Branson's space tourism tests", Guardian Unlimited, July 27, 2007