How would a crew of a spacecraft get home if 'everyone' on the spacecraft becomes incapacitated, immobilized or go unconscious?

The crew is alive and stable but unable to operate equipment.

Is there automation in the system that can be invoked in a contingency? Can operators from the ground remote control the space craft back to earth? What about the reentry stage?

They could have suffered from some form of paralysis, or experienced an event that knocks them out or something else happened via poison, bacteria or virus.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question, but very broad. Could you narrow it down to a single spacecraft, or single type of spacecraft? There are simply too many possibilities to provide an answer as it stands. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 14:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ForgeMonkey I think I am most curious on the possibilities. I am sure there are one or two people familiar with particular equipment or instances where things like this were considered or an actual event required non-crew members to activate and do something that was touch and go (so to speak). $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ At the very least, you have to specify the type of spacecraft. Capability for remote control is VASTLY different between various current and historical types (STS, Apollo, Gemini, Shenzhou, Soyuz, Vostok/Voskhod...). $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ As I recall the autopilot could land the STS (sans undercarrage) but couldn't control the vehicle in space. However, I remember something about a cable being designed after the Columbia disaster that would connect the flight controls to the autopilot so that the whole thing could be controlled from the ground. I can't find any references though, so I might be misremembering. $\endgroup$ Dec 10, 2014 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Please note that we're a Q&A and refer to our About and Help center for more information on how we function, more specifically in your case our How to Ask page. Say, for example, that I posted another answer that could be equally correct like the one you already got but describing a different spacecraft and space agency. Should we put two such answers to popularity vote which one is better? And which one would you accept as the one answering your question then? You see the conundrum here? So we strive to ask questions that can identify best and most complete answer. Yours, currently, can't. $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Dec 10, 2014 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


Prior to 2006, STS could not be landed via Mission Control. The landing gear could only be operated manually.

After the Columbia accident, the rest of the fleet was refitted with the RCO IFM cable, a 28-foot braided cable that the flight crew could use to link the cockpit with the shuttle's avionics bay and give Mission Control access to the appropriate switches.

  • $\begingroup$ And for what it's worth, the Soviet Union's Buran shuttle was remotely piloted for its entire journey, including the landing (it was only ever launched one, unmanned). It should be pretty easy to find out about Soyuz - I know the retro-rockets automatically fire a meter or so above the ground, but I'm not 100% about the parachute. $\endgroup$
    – Kirkaiya
    Dec 10, 2014 at 22:55

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