At the time of writing this, more than 600 people have gone to space. The first person to do it was the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, in 1961. Most of the people that have achieved the dream of flying to outer space have been astronauts that form part of space agencies such as NASA although a few have gone as part of space tourism trips.
But space exploration can be a risky profession. We have all heard about unfortunate accidents like that of the Apollo 1 training crew or the Space Shuttle Challenger. To date, there have been 188 fatalities related to space flights. Fortunately, the number of accidents has greatly been reduced since the 1980s as space agencies have gotten better at implementing safety protocols.
With all those incidents, it is natural to wonder if at some point any astronauts have been lost in space. In this article, we’ll answer that question and more.
Are there any dead bodies in space?
The short answer is no. There are no dead bodies in space. Most of the spaceflight-related accidents have happened on land or before reaching the line that we consider space. This limit is called the Kármán line and is 100 kilometers (62 miles) above sea level.
There have been a few cases of spacecraft that have been “lost in space”. For example, the Apollo 10 released the descent module while they were orbiting the Moon. The module did not have any astronauts inside and was “lost” although it was released in such a way that it would go into orbit around the Sun. The module was located in 2019 using a telescope.
As for other types of accidents, there have been cases of satellites that have collided or been hit by something. But those are unmanned and they usually fall into Earth and are disintegrated from the heat as they enter the atmosphere.
Have any astronauts died in space?
The only accident that has actually occurred in space happened in 1971 when the capsule of the Soyuz 11 depressurized on its way back from the Salyut 1 space station. This resulted in the death of all three crew members, Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev. Because the capsule was already on its way back and ready for re-entry, it continued its descent to Earth and fell into the ocean. All three bodies were recovered. That is the only case of people who have died in space.
The Lost Cosmonauts
The Lost Cosmonauts is a famous conspiracy theory from the 1960s. The theory suggests that before Yuri Gagarin made the first successful attempt at traveling to space, the Soviets had made other previous attempts in secret. Those attempts would have resulted in an accident in space where the cosmonauts would have died and the Soviet Union covered up the whole thing.
There is little to no evidence to believe that the Lost Cosmonauts theory is true. A lot of the Soviet documents from the era have been declassified and there’s nothing that supports the theory.
Animals lost in space
Now that we know that no human bodies are floating in space aimlessly, how about animals?
In the 1950s, before sending humans to space, both the Soviets and American agencies made their first attempts at keeping a living being inside a spacecraft alive using animals.
The US sent a monkey named Albert I in a V-2 Blossom rocket while the Soviets sent the famous dog Laika with the Sputnik 2 satellite. Unfortunately, a few animals died in space including both of them. Since they all passed while inside their capsules and all their capsules came back to Earth, all the bodies were recovered.
Sending your ashes to space
The closer to human bodies floating in space is cremated ashes of a few people that have been sent with the explicit purpose of spreading them across the universe.
There are satellite and rocket companies that for A LOT of money offer this service for people who want their or their loved ones’ ashes floating in space.
- There are no human bodies lost in space. Most spaceflight-related accidents that involved people have happened while still on Earth.
- The only three people who have died in space are the cosmonauts of the Soyuz 11. The accident occurred during reentry and the capsule landed on Earth so their bodies were recovered.
- There are no animal bodies in space either.