Almost everyone likes the idea of space travel to some degree. But what are the accomplishments and failures of space travel? We will start with the failures, and wind up on a positive note with the successes.
Aside from actual tragedies, there have also been unmet goals which can be considered failures.
- First spaceflight fatality: Vladimir Komarov on Soyuz 1, impact after parachute malfunction (1967).
- First and (so far) only fatalities to actually take place in space: Vladislav Volkov, Georgy Dobrovolsky, and Viktor Patsayev due to decompression (1971).
- Deaths due to explosion, fall, and impact shortly after launch of Space Shuttle Challenger: Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Greg Jarvis,Christa McAuliffe (1986).
- Deaths due to break-up of Space Shuttle Columbia on Re-entry: Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, Michael P. Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David M. Brown, Laurel Clark, Ilan Ramon (2003).
- Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two disintegrated over California in October of 2014 with the loss of one life (apparently the first fatality in the fledgeling private space industry).
There have, of course, been many successes in the history of space travel also.
- We have not built a permanent settlement on the moon or any other body.
- We have not built a reusable spacecraft which can be considered truly durable, reliable, and safe.
- There has been little or no industrial or economic success in space travel (other than communications).
- The USA, the USSR/Russia, and other countries have launched satellites which greatly speed up long range communications, as well as make it possible to monitor weather, the environment, natural resources, etc.
- Humans have set foot on the moon repeatedly, and returned samples from its surface.
- Mankind can now repeatedly go to low earth orbit to deploy telescopes and other scientific instruments.
- Humans can live for months aboard a space station and perform experiments on how the space environment affects both inert materials as well as living things (including ourselves).
- It has been found that the microgravity of space makes it possible to process some materials (such as pharmaceuticals, metals, and crystals) so as to give them a superior purity or flawlessness of structure that it is impossible to achieve on the surface of the earth (as noted above, this has not been realized as a commercial success as yet, but could be someday if a more economical spacecraft or space elevator is built).
- We have remotely explored or photographed most of the planets in the solar system (Mars in particular), and also most of the moons of these planets.
- As I write this, the Rosetta mission is scheduled to set a robotic lander on the surface of a comet for the first time within two days.