How Safe is Space Travel?

Space travel is very dangerous. Probably the most dangerous 62 mile trip (Karman Line) that humans have tried to do. Space is not without inherent risks. Officially, only 3 people have ever died in space. Just because there are only 3 people to have ever officially died in space, doesn’t mean they were the only people to have ever died for the cause. So, exactly how safe is space travel?


(Photo credit: PopSci – Emily Elert)

Many people remember on February 1, 2003, when space shuttle Columbia broke apart during its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, killing seven astronauts on board. Later it was revealed that a large piece of foam fell from the shuttle’s external tank and fatally breached the spacecraft wing (Howell, 2013). Many people including myself, remember the shutter Challenger disaster on January 28, 1986 vividly. Killing all seven astronauts, when a booster engine failed from a cracked O-ring, causing the shuttle Challenger to break apart just 73 seconds after launch (Heiney, 2015). Over the years of spaceflight, twenty-two astronauts have died. So just how safe is space? As it turns out of the 19 astronauts and cosmonauts, all died in a space craft either during launch or re-entry: Apollo 1 (3), Soyuz 1 (1), X-15-3(1), Challenger (7), Columbia (7), totaling 19 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 (, 2014). Of these deaths, the Soyuz 11, in 1971 where 3 cosmonauts officially died in space when decoupling from the space station Salyut 1. The cosmonauts suffered decompression as the air slowly leaked out from a valve fault during the decoupling (Space Safety Magazine, 2013). Now, while space travel is very dangerous, we have no recorded evidence of humans has actually dying during a spacewalk as scene in the move Gravity (2013).

NASA has been working endlessly to reduce such risks as exposure to the Sun’s radiation, chemical leaks, and of course fire. “NASA hates fire” – Mark Watney (Scott, 2015). If the human race is to evolve and start extending our space travel to Mars someday, and possibly the rest of the solar system then, making space travel safer is NASA’s number one discourse. NASA Langley researchers have worked for more than eight decades to make air and space travel faster, safer and less expensive (, 1998).

To find out more about NASA future plans go to

More Space Travel Information


Howell, E. (2013). Columbia Disaster: What Happened, What NASA Learned. Retrieved from:

Hainey, A. (2015). ‘Forever Remembered’ Shares Enduring Lessons of Challenger, Columbia. Retrieved from: (1998). Air Transportation in the 21st Century: NASA Langley’s Contributions to the Future of Flight. NASA. Retreived from: (2014). Has any astronaut got lost in space? Like how they show in the movie Gravity (2013). Retrieved from:

Scott, R. (Director). (2015). The Martian [Motion picture]. USA: Company 3.

Space Safety Magazine (2013). The Crew That Never Came Home: The Misfortunes of Soyuz 11. Retrieved from:


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