I was reading some one-line sad stories and came across this one:

Goodbye mission control, thanks for trying.

So I was wondering if there have ever been people trapped in a spacecraft without a way back to earth, doomed to float around in space until they meet their end.

I'm specifically asking about floating around until food/water run out.

I do not intend to take the death of astronauts lightly, I was just curious if something like this has happened.

  • Although the question seems specifically to be about floating around in space until resources ran out; not about fire, explosions, crashing, rapid decompression etc. This makes it more difficult than a simple Google search, and I don't see any such incidents from a quick glance through that Wikipedia page. @Darnok can you edit your question to be more specific (and leave out the drama)? – Jan Doggen Dec 4 at 12:59
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    Voskhod 2 reentry engines failed to fire when it was to end the flight and bring the spacecraft down, but the cosmonauts managed to fix them and perform the reentry an orbit later (and a couple thousand kilometers from the planned landing site, right into frozen taiga.) – SF. Dec 4 at 17:04
  • There are conspiracy theories concerning lost cosmonauts (see particularly the Judica-Cordiglia brothers), but these have been pretty thoroughly debunked. – Michael Seifert Dec 4 at 18:29
  • Thanks for the edit! – uhoh Dec 4 at 19:10
  • How about the Salyut that lost power and a crew docked to revive it? I forget which one specically. – geoffc Dec 4 at 20:04
up vote 46 down vote accepted

Seeing as the answer is "no" (As per @DarkDust), I thought I'd add a situation that's similar.

There was a short period aboard Mir after the collision with progress where all astronauts were without power, life support, lights and communication. The cosmonauts were interviewed about it and said something along the lines of "after being in here for so long around the whirring and beeping... something about the absolute silence was terrifying."

The video can be found here (the quote is at the end 8:00 in):

For the first time I experienced a totally silent, still Space Station. Where there are no fans moving, there is no lights on-- nothing is alive... just our breathing is causing any sound.

Another quote on just how surreal this accident was:

When we heard the words 'decompression on station' I felt a sense of detachment, as if it wasn't me. As if it were some other person. Then I shuddered, like waking from a terrible dream, because something like this is not supposed to happen.

However, there were no fatalities due to this collision as they sealed off the damaged module in time and got things working again. It's a very interesting topic to read about though simply because it was one of the worst docking errors in space history. Being one of the few in space to experience darkness and silence like this would be akin to feeling lost in space.

No, there have not. So far all astronauts have made it back to earth, though not all of them alive. The only casualties in space (above the Kármán line) are the crew of Soyuz 11 who were still in orbit when they died but about to reenter the atmosphere. All other casualties like Komarov in Soyuz 1 or the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster were during reentry well below the Kármán line.

Not humans, but Laika died due to malfunctioning enviromental control, and a retrorocket failure on Biosatellite 1 left its passengers (plants, bugs, and frog eggs) drifting in a slowly decaying orbit until burning up on re-entry.

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    Dogs are people too. +1 – Mazura Dec 5 at 1:28
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    There was no provision for her to come back alive anyway... – Antzi Dec 5 at 5:10
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    According to a children's book my daughter has, Laika actually was rescued by aliens and taken to a new family and you will not tell me any different :p – Whelkaholism Dec 6 at 9:34

Another similar incident was the Soyuz 23, where the capsule landed on a partially frozen lake in the middle of a blizzard, which it broke through, and ended up partially submerged, specifically the hatch. It took quite some time to rescue the astronauts, and in fact they were presumed dead when the capsule was recovered. An hour or two after the capsule was recovered, the astronauts opened the door from the inside.

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    Any reason why the rescuers didn't open the hatch themselves? Even if they were presumed dead, surely you should check at the earliest opportunity in case they are not? – Baldrickk Dec 5 at 11:53
  • They were presumed dead, and wanted to wait for a special crew to deal with the dead bodies, at least according to Wikipedia... – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 5 at 13:30
  • Also why did it take 2 hours for them to open it? Passed out due to lack of oxygen or hypothermia or...? – Magic Octopus Urn Dec 6 at 4:32
  • The astronauts opened it, not the rescue crew. At the time there was frost on the spacecraft, so I assume they thought hypothermia. – PearsonArtPhoto Dec 6 at 13:06
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    Imagine being those rescuers? "Nah, they're dead... leave them for the recovery crew." hatch opens "UUUH HEY JANE WE WERE JUST ABOUT TO GET YOU OUT, JUST GETTING PREPARED, YEP!" – Adonalsium Dec 6 at 15:26

No it hasn't happened yet. It is quite plausible it could have though.

One close call is Soyuz-TM5 http://www.russianspaceweb.com/mir_close_calls.html

Practice at that time was to jettison the orbital module before starting the re-entry sequence. This saved delta-V but left the crew with no ability to return to the space station.

According to the article linked their first attempt at a re-entry burn failed due to an issue with the guidance system. Their second attempt not only failed but triggered a sequence which would have jettisoned the service module, fortunately they were able to abort that sequence, debug the issue and land a day later.

I don't know exactly how long they could have lasted without the orbital module but from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Soyuz_diagrama.gif it seems a fair bit of life support stuff is located there. If they had ended up stuck without usable propulsion I doubt any type of rescue would have been possible.

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