Space exploration can be quite tricky. During the space race, there was plenty up for grabs for any country which managed to register milestones.
While the newsfeed is usually awash with all the great achievements registered, some truths are usually left out. The most important being that manned space missions can be quite fatal. Because space is filled with several elements which are not typically as abundant here on Earth, there’s a very real chance that astronauts could lose their lives if precautions are not taken.
Which begs the question, has anyone ever died in space?
Well, if you’ve ever pondered over that query, then the truth is yes, people have lost their lives trying to fill in the gaps about what lies in the heavens.
Since the dawn of space travel, a sum total of 18 astronauts/cosmonauts have died during the space flight missions. Having revealed this, it’s quite notable that only 3 have died while in space.
While there’s no universally accepted measurement on where space begins, it is generally agreed that a height of above 100 kilometers (62 miles), is a good metric.
In light of this, it means that only 3 people have died while outside Earth’s limits. This means that the remainder of the astronauts died during the launch phase or as they were attempting to make atmospheric re-entry.
The temperatures in outer space are heavily dependent on a number of factors. The primary reasons being: the distance a location is from a star if there’s a solar wind or solar flare nearby, and whether the site in questions is in direct light or shade.
The average temperatures on space are about 2.7 Kelvin (-454.81 Fahrenheit or -270.45 Celsius). The temperatures are incredibly low due to the absence of an atmosphere and the vacuum-like nature of space.
From the aforementioned description on the extremities of outer space, it’s clearly evident that it’s not an exactly habitable place.
In 1971, three cosmonauts, Vladislav Volkov, Viktor Patsayev, and Georgi Dobrovolski met their untimely demise while on the way back home from the Salyut 1 space station.
Fascinatingly, the Soyuz 11 craft made a perfect landing in 1971 thanks to the well-designed automatic re-entry program. The recovery teams were however astonished to discover the three cosmonauts died in their couches, filled with dark-blue splotches on their faces and blood dripping from their noses and ears.
An investigation revealed that they died from asphyxiation after a breathing ventilation valve ruptured. With pressure changes all around them, they were also exposed to the vacuum of space and died seconds after the rupture which happened at an altitude of 104 miles (168 km).
The very first fatality on a space mission was Vladimir Komarov, a Soviet cosmonaut who died after the Soyuz 1 capsule he was aboard crashed into Russian soil back in 1967.
Interestingly, it’s believed that Komarov and embers of the Soviet leadership were aware that the capsule had issues but chose to ignore the warnings. A couple of different accounts indicate that the parachute malfunction actually caused the crash. In audiotapes obtained from the crash, you can clearly hear the cosmonaut cry in rage as he puts the blame on the engineers for not safely designing the capsule.
It’s a big one. Remarkably, it happened right after NASA had exited the Apollo era unscathed.
With luck on their side, nobody expected that things would take a turn for the worse shortly after the Challenger took off.
With plenty of school-going children as part of the audience, it’s safe to say that she had an entire audience of eager learners looking forward to the lessons she would be able to share once in space.
After the mission, investigations concluded that O-ring seals had failed due to cold temperatures on D-day.
A whole 17 years after the Challenger tragedy, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb 1, 2003.
Investigations concluded that the tragedy happened because there was plenty of damage emanating from foam debris shed by the shuttle. The investigators indicated that while the 7-member crew aboard may have survived the initial breakup, they lost consciousness as the break up continued around them.
As earlier divulged, while the Apollo missions never had any fatalities, there were some fatal accidents that happened during preparations.
Three astronauts from Apollo 1, Edward White II, Roger Chaffee, and Gus Grissom tragically lost their lives while a grounded test of the command module on January 27, 1967. Investigations deduced that the astronauts died from asphyxiation because of a fire while engulfed the cockpit.
Michael Adams, an astronaut in training died after passing 50 miles (80.5 km) in altitude. Since some people regard this as part of space, there’s an argument to be made that the X-15 rocket-powered plane crashed on the outer limits of Earth’s atmosphere.
The infamous “Houston, we have a problem” line, from the 1995 movie “Apollo 13” was uttered during this mission.
Were it not for the corrective measures of Neil Armstrong shutting off the malfunctioning main thrusters and seizing control of the re-entry thrusters, both he and David Scott would have blacked out.
While it’s tragic that there have been fatalities in space, it’s worth noting that all the incidents have ensured that the safety guidelines on space travel were revised. It comes as little surprise then that since the Soyuz 11 flight, not a single cosmonaut or astronaut has died from decompression in space.
If you’re a space enthusiast looking to venture into the limits of space, then, we perfectly understand if the shared stats have scared you a little bit.
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