Among astronauts in orbit, what is the worst real injury recorded? Has anyone hit himself on the thumb with a hammer or something? Squeezed a finger in a closing door? Gotten poisoned by some leaking experiment mystery box? I bet they haven't hurt their backs while lifting something heavy, or fell from high altitude or were run over in traffic.

So, what makes our astronauts bleed the most?

This question wants to ignore the lethal space flight events which were all related to launch or landing (or suborbital flight, including the Soyuz 18 launch abort in 1975 which gave one of the crew unspecified internal injuries). Instead it is about how humans have hurt themselves the worst while being in the orbital weightlessness of the ISS, Mir, Salyut, Shuttle and other crewed orbiting vehicles.

According to this Wikipedia list out of all the about 540 astronauts to orbit as of today since 55 years, I only find this single injury from 1995:

While exercising on the Mir EO-18/NASA 1/Soyuz TM-21 mission, astronaut Norman E. Thagard suffered an eye injury. He was using an exercise device, doing deep knee bends, with elastic straps. One of the straps slipped off of his foot, flew up, and hit him in the eye.

Fortunately, it was just a tiny discomfort:

Later, even a small amount of light caused pain in his eye. He said using the eye was, "like looking at the world through gauze."

And could quickly be cured:

An ophthalmologist at Mission Control-Moscow prescribed steroid drops and the eye healed.

Is it true that no astronaut ever was injured in space? With injury defined as for example worse than what the majority of us all experience within six months or so from everyday life on Earth (like a sprained ankle).

EDIT: I want to include illnesses here too. If any astronaut ever has gotten ill, instead of injured, by orbital spaceflight. Like having to spend two weeks nearly unconsciously in bed with high fever, like tens of millions of people do right now. Everyday Earthly stuff like that, has any astronaut ever suffered from something like that?

up vote 20 down vote accepted

The crew of Apollo 7 were all ill. The commander, Wally Schirra, developed a cold and the other two crew members suffered prolonged motion sickness.

Due to the illnesses, the crew failed to perform their duties (such as perform the live television broadcast) and all were retired from spaceflight. Even today, it is not publicly known if they performed the landing with the helmets off as they had threatened to do, due to concerns of their ears popping.

Wikipedia has a concise description of the events, with the exaggerated title "Mutiny" in Space. Here is an excerpt of the comms:

SCHIRRA: You've added two burns to this flight schedule, and you've added a urine water dump; and we have a new vehicle up here, and I can tell you at this point TV will be delayed without any further discussion until after the rendezvous.

CAPCOM (Jack Swigert): Roger. Copy.

SCHIRRA: Roger.

CAPCOM 1 (Deke Slayton): Apollo 7, this is CAPCOM number 1.

SCHIRRA: Roger.

CAPCOM 1: All we've agreed to do on this is flip it.

SCHIRRA: ... with two commanders, Apollo 7

CAPCOM 1: All we have agreed to on this particular pass is to flip the switch on. No other activity is associated with TV; I think we are still obligated to do that.

SCHIRRA: We do not have the equipment out; we have not had an opportunity to follow setting; we have not eaten at this point. At this point, I have a cold. I refuse to foul up our time lines this way.

The Mars Society has a good indication of what the most serious medical issues have been in space flight. These include:

  • A number of cases where the gloves leaked in an EVA. (STS-37, Mir Space Station) The STS-37 was possibly the most serious, only the fact that the astronaut was also bleeding kept this from a much more serious issue, similar to how Mark Watney was saved in the initial moments of The Martian.
  • Toxic gas exposure when there has been a leak of a variety of substances. (Mir fire, Apollo side of Apollo-Soyuz, STS-96.
  • Urinary Tract Infections, the worst of which came from Apollo 13, where water was severely rationed.
  • Prostate infection on Salyut-7, resulting in an early return from space. Fever of 104° F (40° C). There is some speculation this might have been psychological.

Of course, the most serious incident in orbit was Soyuz 11, which occurred in the processing of reentering. When the service module disconnected, it left a vacuum exposed vent open, which lead to the death of all 3 cosmonauts.

  • Worst symptoms I find in your link are: "causing eye irritation, lethargy and nausea". And "rashes". Those are all everyday experiences to every human being on Earth! They are not health problems. So I cannot accept this as an answer. – LocalFluff Jul 25 '16 at 15:54
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    @LocalFluff I think it's a good answer - it covers some more serious cases, including names and flight numbers. – Andy Jul 25 '16 at 16:01
  • @LocalFluff The end has the more serious cases. In any case, it seems like the issues of the EVA resulting in punctured gloves is the most serious, as Andy mentioned. – PearsonArtPhoto Jul 25 '16 at 16:24
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    I did not include the fatal instances, nor those that came from landing, which there are a number. But that is the answer, there haven't been any major injuries, but a number of serious issues, as listed. – PearsonArtPhoto Jul 25 '16 at 22:55
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – called2voyage Jul 27 '16 at 13:58

While I'm not sure it would qualify as a physical, bleeding injury, there was a near-death from drowning in space. Luca Parmitano, was an Italian NASA astronaut who nearly drowned during an EVA in July, 2013.

It was so unexpected that NASA hadn't even planned emergency procedures for an incident like this. After all, what are the chances of drowning in space?

His helmet had a water leak and filled up with water. By the time he got back to the airlock, he was hardly able to breathe or even see through the water.

You can read more about it here: http://www.space.com/24835-spacesuit-water-leak-nasa-investigation.html

  • He could simply have swallowed the fluid as it reached his mouth. How many liters did he need to get rid of? Even that incident, a space suit failure during an EVA, which is kind of the worst thinkable scenario, did not produce any injury. Beyond the mental trauma of drinking some bottled water which wasn't as tasty as Evian. – LocalFluff Jul 26 '16 at 19:05
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    @LocalFluff this was a life threatening incident. Your suggested amelioration would have been ineffective. You are however correct that no injury occurred. – Organic Marble Jul 26 '16 at 20:30
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    @LocalFluff IIRC it was not known at the time, and by Luca, that the fluid filling his helmet was water. Drinking unknown things is unwise. In this case it turned out to be water; But it could have been something else from the suit's cooling system. Even if it was water, it could have been contaminated. In Luca's case, it was: "Engineers are still evaluating root cause, but noted the potential for what Luca classed as “funny tasting” water was because it may have mixed with the anti-fogging material on his visor. However, where the water came from is still unknown." – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jul 27 '16 at 0:19
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    @localfluff How exactly would he have been able to drink the water? You're not exactly able to direct where it would go. It's not just floating around there in the helmet -- it clings to surfaces, including the visor, the comms cap, and the crewmember's face, including eyes, ears, and nose. Maybe 10% of the water would have been physically possible to drink. – Tristan Jul 27 '16 at 18:25
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    @LocalFluff Nonsense. If you've already aspirated it, you cannot swallow it. If it's covering your nose, you can't swallow it. If it's in your eyes, particularly if it's treated water, you can't see to get back to the airlock. If it's in your ears, it's either shorted out your comms equipment or you just can't hear anything. It cannot be stressed enough how serious a problem water in the helmet is. – Tristan Jul 28 '16 at 13:57

Some crewmembers have been incapacitated by Space Adaptation Syndrome (SAS) as they adapt to the free fall environment. The most publicized case of this was "Payload Specialist" Jake Garn who was so sick on his space junket that his name became the standard unit of spacesickness, where 1 garn = completely incapacitated.

Less severe cases have caused mission timeline impacts such as the rescheduling of an EVA on STS-122.

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    "How's your adaptation to weightlessness?" "Not too bad, about 100 milligarn." – SF. Jul 27 '16 at 17:53
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    Anecdotally, it was commonly accepted knowledge amongst NASA's Astronaut Corps (as of 2004) that the next most severe case of Space Adaption Sickness (after Senator Garn's) did not even register as 1 milligarn... – Digger Aug 27 '16 at 17:54

I think the worst injuries sustained have been the deaths of the crew of Soyuz 11. The crew capsule depressurized during preparations for reentry.

  • I consider this observation correct, as the Soyuz 11 crew was still in orbit. – Hohmannfan Jul 26 '16 at 12:05
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    But it happened during a landing process. They had not only separated from their space station in orbit, the accident happened when their Soyuz released the landing capsule from what was otherwise an orbital vehicle. So I'd count that to the launch and landing (and suborbital) death toll. But one out of 540 astronauts in weightlessness had an itch for a while, so who cares about the priorities for astronaut safety? – LocalFluff Jul 26 '16 at 13:13
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    @LocalFluff The Soyuz 11 cosmonauts are widely accept as the only fatalities in space. Re-entry into the atmopshere had not yet begun, although their trajectory was leading to it. Therefore, its not considered to have happened during the landing. – Polygnome Jul 26 '16 at 19:52

A relatively large number of US astronauts who performed EVAs have injured their shoulders badly enough to require surgery. At the time this study was performed (2012) there was no definite conclusion as to whether the injuries resulted from orbital EVAs or training.

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full presentation here

  • And the conclusions is? – Zaibis Jul 27 '16 at 13:07
  • " At the time this study was performed (2012) there was no definite conclusion as to whether the injuries resulted from orbital EVAs or training." – Organic Marble Jul 27 '16 at 13:07
  • So you are saying "IF they came from EVA, this would fit as answer"? Did I get that now correct? – Zaibis Jul 27 '16 at 13:26
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    Yeah. Personally I side with the training possibility but the doctors say they can't determine. – Organic Marble Jul 27 '16 at 13:29

It is well known that finger injuries sustained during EVA plagued a lot of astronauts. The Lunar Surface Journal for Apollo 15 has some good references to this at 126:08:40, with links to post-mission photographs of Dave Scott clearly showing the damage to this fingernails and giving a good indication of the extent of the blood blisters that formed.

In fact, post-mission reports for 15 indicate that it wasn't just fingernails. Gene Cernan even complained of blisters between his thumb and forefingers and reported that his knuckles were rubbed raw and bloody against the inside of his suit.

The astronauts powered through and kept working, but in long-duration missions this type of injury would surely have to be dealt with. It was largely unforeseen in earlier mission but had the Apollo missions been of a longer duration this would surely have impacted the duration and amount of EVA's performed.

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