Being an astronaut is a dream for many people. Traveling to space, looking back on Earth in its true form, working on your satellite outside in the spacesuit, etc. However, if something moves in one direction in space, it will travel continuously in that particular direction. So, astronauts could detach from their satellites and get lost in space.
But is it possible? Has an astronaut even been lost in space? In this article, we will figure out its answer. You will know does it happened, how it is possible, and what prevents these accidents from occurring. So, let’s get into the details!
Has An Astronaut Ever Been Lost In Space?
No! An astronaut has never been lost in space until this date. There have been some close calls, and astronauts were on the verge of wandering off into dark space, but they were saved due to quick decision makings and progressive efforts. Although they have experienced a dreadful situation, luckily, no one has suffered floating off into the black outer space.
It is precautionary measures and proper planning that lead to successful space ventures. When an astronaut steps into empty space, or we rather say, floats off from their space shuttle, they have many firewalls that prevent such accidents. Yes, mishaps can happen, and a couple of times, things had gone south, but the astronauts were brought back to the space stations safely.
Is It Possible That Someone Can Get Lost In Space?
Even though it has never happened, there are chances that an astronaut can get lost in space. First is the space debris traveling in the empty void directionless, at any speed. Sometimes, they travel above the speed of sound. They become extremely dangerous at such a high velocity and can devastate a person’s time in a ruthless vacuum.
Even a small pebble or any tiny piece of rock can puncture, break, or damage the astronaut’s spacesuit. It can cut off the cord that attaches the astronaut to the space station. The space suit can malfunction itself, which can drift the astronaut away from the space shuttle.
Or any EVAs can fail or be badly disturbed, which can push them into outer space. EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities) are astronauts’ activities in their spacesuits performed outside the space vehicles.
How Astronauts Keep Them Safe In Space?
Astronauts have many measures that keep them safe during a space walk. First, they wear their spacesuits for hours before stepping into space to prepare their bodies for the outer surroundings. Then they are connected to the spacecraft via a tether. A tether is a strong rope made from Kevlar (a heavy-duty material)
The tether keeps them connected to their space vehicles. They also keep their necessary tools close with these Kevlar ropes. Moreover, they are in contact with the other astronauts and ground stations with radio connections. So, their every move and condition is monitored, and they can act quickly if anything goes wrong.
Astronauts also keep them safe during the spacewalk with the help of a SAFER. It stands for Simplified Aid for Extra Vehicular Activity Rescue. A SAFER is in the form of a backpack with some jet thrusters installed. They use pressurized air to allow astronauts to propel in a direction.
Whenever the astronaut drifts away from the spacecraft, especially when detached from the tether, they use these thrust aids to return to the craft. It is controllable from a joystick that releases the air in the opposite direction of travel and adjusts the moving speed.
How Many People Have Died In Space?
Although there’s no such accident as the astronaut being lost in space, people have indeed died during their space travel. 15 astronauts and 4 cosmonauts have lost their lives while orbiting around the Earth or preparing to enter space. Here is a short list of them:
Soyuz -1 Accident
In 1967, Vladimir Komarov was the first person who died in space. The Soyuz-1 mission was supposed to be the first docking in space with the Soyuz-2. However, after the launch, one of the two spacecraft’s solar panels didn’t open properly, leading to insufficient electricity production.
So, the mission was aborted, and Soyuz-1 was deorbited earlier. But the safety parachute malfunctioned while landing, and the spacecraft hit land at 180 km/h. Komarov died on the spot. The completely burned debris also hindered the investigation.
In the same year (1967), a fire accident in ground training took the life of three astronauts. The incident occurred at the Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo-1 launch rehearsal at Launch Complex 34. During the practice, a fire started in the chamber due to a short circuit.
The chamber had a complex design and could not open easily to simulate pressure differences between spacecraft and outer space. Moreover, it was filled with only oxygen to remove all nitrogen, which caused the fire’s rapid spread. The three astronauts, Roger Chaffee, Edward White, and Virgil Grissom, died of combustion poisoning.
In 1971, the Soyuz-11 made a successful docking with Salyut 1. The three cosmonauts, Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov, made a new record for the longest time in space and conducted various experiments. However, when their spacecraft Soyuz-11 returned, they were found dead in the cabin.
Later investigation found that depressurization and decompression sickness was the cause of death. On their return, a valve of the spacecraft was leaking, expelling out all the essential air. The vacuum fogged the visibility due to decompression and burst the cosmonauts’ eardrums. They died by suffocation.
What Will Happen If An Astronaut Is Lost In Space?
Although the movie “Gravity” had roughly visualized what would happen if an astronaut is lost in space, the real scenario is dreadful. NASA has various mechanisms to keep an astronaut safe during a space walk. They are connected via the tether. They have SAFER, which has three pounds of fuel to guide them back to their spacecraft. Their partner can save them only if the floating person is within range.
However, if everything fails, there are two scenarios. Either the astronaut will float toward the Earth or into the endless dark void. The astronaut drifting toward the Earth will be burnt to death as the spacesuit will soon get an extreme velocity and heat up due to air friction.
On the other hand, if they travel away from the Earth, they will endlessly be moving in one direction. Any flailing, twitching, or kicking will be unnecessary. Their life will sustain until they have an oxygen supply from the storage tanks, which roughly last 7 and a half hours.
They may feel a little hungry, but a straw to the water tank will end the thirst. The only thing they can do is think about their life and their family. Eventually, the oxygen will run out, and the astronaut will die due to suffocation. The body will normally decompose in space because of the air trapped inside the spacesuit. Briefly, the body will become space debris.
No astronaut has ever been lost in space to this date. They have various measures that save them from drifting off in space, which include tether connectivity and a SAFER jetpack. These all ensure the astronaut’s safety during a space walk, so no such cases were reported. However (sadly), accidents have occurred in space, and people have lost their lives, but not by floating off spacecraft.