Based on this question it sounds like if something goes wrong it's pretty easy for a crewed capsule reentering from space to go way off target. Does that mean that the capsules are equipped to land pretty much anywhere? Obviously landing on the top of mount everest would be a challenge, but can they land on both water and land for example?

To clarify my question a bit, if a capsule is slated to land on land, but gets off course and ends up landing in water, will it be survivable? IE will rafts still deploy? and vice versa.

  • $\begingroup$ The earliest Soviet capsules were designed to land on ..land. But not with the Cosmonauts inside. They had to bail out and land by parachute. I reckon if they had come down over the ocean, the occupants would not have had much chance of survival. Though one landed so far off course that the guys had to endure cold and threat of wolves & bears, ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


The Soyuz capsule can land in water, even if that is by no means an optimal scenario. The last splashdown of a crewed spacecraft was Soyuz 23 landing in a lake in Kazakhstan. The recovery took a while as locating the spacecraft at night after the communication equipment failed was difficult.

Splashdown tests have later been performed, and a water landing should be more easy to handle now than in 1976.

Soyuz splashdown test

As for other spacecraft:

Apollo (no longer in use) had a relatively low landing speed (8-10m/s), which should be pretty ok for a landing on land. A splashdown was preferred though.

The Space shuttle (no longer in use) required a runway, an unusually long one. That limits the landing locations a lot, even though there were backup plans for landing in airports in for example Europe in an emergency situation.

I could not find any data on Shenzhou, but the design is very close to Soyuz, and also lands on land.

  • $\begingroup$ Are all launched Soyuz prepped for both land and water? If the mission was originally for land will it still be equipped for a water landing just in case? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 4, 2017 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidGrinberg: the capsules regularly land ~50km off target site, and even if there aren't any seas there, you can't assure it won't land in a lake/pond/river. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 0:33
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. I'm sure you can find a strip of land with no lakes in a 50km range, especially in Kazakhstan, but my more important question is, if the capsule does end up landing in say a lake when it was planned to land on land, will it have flotation devices to deploy or will they have never been packed? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 0:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidGrinberg The Soyuz does not have flotation devices, but neither did the Apollo. The flotation equipment you see in pictures, like this one is attached by the rescue crew post landing. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 6:39

One environment the capsules definitely can't land on is steep mountain slopes. If the capsule starts rolling down the slope, there's very little the astronauts can do. This will include glaciers, buildings, generally once the capsule makes the touchdown, it better not continue falling.

Forests with tall trees (like Amazon jungle) may prove lethal, as the parachute tangles, rips, and the capsule falls last 30-50m like a rock.

And of course places where you will die, no matter how you arrived. High voltage power stations, active volcanoes, ISIS training camps, minefields, generally anywhere you wouldn't want to land by any other means.

The astronauts are equipped for survival in even quite harsh environments, and the capsules are quite sturdy, plus most of the world is rather friendly towards space programs, but imagine you've got the best survival gear and a sturdy shelter, but then you appear in a completely random place in the world...

Generally though, mountains, due to large surface they cover, pose the most danger.

(also add atrophy from long time in microgravity; the astronauts won't be likely to walk away on their own, to e.g. find help if they are stuck in the middle of Amazon forest, or Sahara).


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