Soyuz vs. Shuttle

Just ran into these short, raw data. Made me remember, and feel better, about how I used to wish I could fly to space from Baikonur when I was a kid.

As of 2006 (and there haven’t been any fatalities since):

Soyuz (1967-Present)
Flights: 95
Failures: 4 (2 non-fatal)
Failure Rate: 4.21%

Cosmonauts Flown: 228
Fatalities: 4
Fatality Rate: 1.75%

Shuttle (1981-Present)
Flights: 116
Failures: 3 (1 non-fatal)

Failure Rate: 2.59%

Astronauts Flown: 692
Fatalities: 14
Fatality Rate: 2.02%

One of the two fatal accidents with Soyuz was a human error – someone depressurized the capsule on re-entry.

I’ll take my chances with Soyuz, thank you very much. As far as the number of astronauts flown and the number of flights, this is a pointless metric if you consider that most Russian space programs are long-term. They send their cosmonauts up there for half a year, sometimes longer, so they need fewer flights. Add to that the fact that their resupply spacecraft is unmanned, so fewer flights are needed still.

4 Responses to “Soyuz vs. Shuttle”

  1. The Soyuz depressurization was not “human error” to the extent that the flight crew made an error. There was a valve out of reach of the crew which was incorrectly installed, and the g-forces involved in decelerating were enough, combined with the weight of the handle, to operate the lever. The crew knew what was happening but were unable to reach the valve to shut it off before losing consciousness.

    There is also reason to believe that the death toll of Soyuz flights is higher – many flights in the early years were only announced on their completion. If the flight did not go as planned, it was never announced. There is a lot of subjective and unverifiable information that supports this belief, but alas there is little proof.

    I think it’s the nature of the beast that dying of asphyxiation is preferable to the violent deaths observed with the shuttle. It’s comparable to the sorts of injuries you’d get in a bicycle crash compared to a high powered car with a ton of junk in the back seat.

    What do you think?

    • Thank you for offering a more detailed report regarding the depressurization incident (well, deadly accident, I should say). It of course reminds us that much of Soviet-era manned space activity was often kept under wraps to the extent that some of their greatest failures and/or blunders were, and in some instances have remained, comfortably unreported (e.g., they DID have a serious Moon program on the table until well into 1967, but then quietly killed it for various reasons which I won’t go into here). I’ll also take this opportunity to just clarify that, IMHO, strict statistical comparisons between Soyuz and the Shuttle are rather idle, since there are a whole host of factors that come into play when speaking about issues of security. So this particular post should be taken with a pinch of salt.

      NOTE: Incidentally, the number of people logging onto this particular post shot up enormously last night; I suspect this has something to do with my blog showing up prominently on Google searches involving Shuttle, Soyuz or safety – and is therefore a serendipitous consequence of the release yesterday of the definitive report concerning the 2003 Columbia disaster. Kind of ironic, really, because my blog is meant to be mostly about anthropology and Oceania, rather than spaceflight. But there you have it.

  2. nabam ojoey Says:

    hi……. i am from india.i would like to request u to send details of soyuz and shuttle.
    bye tak care.
    thank u

    • I’m afraid I do not really have specialist files with details of either of these two systems. You’ll have to look in other webpages for that. Off the top of my head I can suggest this and this

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