There is a big difference between the U.S. (and Japanese) space launch philosophy and the philosophy of Russia and China. The United States and Japan launch over water, while Russia and China mostly launch from sites far from any ocean. Rockets are designed to drop heavy debris traveling at high speed onto whatever is below them even under the best of conditions. Launch failures are much worse, scattering heavy, flaming debris below them.
* As documented in Space.com, several Russian launches have failed, and since their launch sites are all in the interior, both the lower rocket stages and the upper part of the rocket have impacted people’s lives, with the details given on Agence France-Presse. There have been no documented people who were killed by failed rockets, in Russia, but in China there was an entire village devastated. On Feb. 14, 1996, one of the worst accidents occurred (as documented in the Encylopedia Astronautica) when a Chinese Long March rocket failed shortly after liftoff and crashed into a nearby village. In many places the public would have demanded that launches stop until a problem was identified and fixed, but not in Russia or China.
* In comparison, when the Space Shuttle Challenger’s boosters failed during liftoff, as described on this NASA history page, the only injuries were to the crew. All debris came down in the ocean, a large swath of which had been cleared before launch. The US program came closer to having casualties on the ground during the Columbia reentry, when large pieces did fall to the ground over a populated area. The NASA Columbia page has all of the details of the mission.
* The Russian people have been docile until recently, as when they have suddenly become unwilling to accept things like questionable elections according to the BBC. Will the population under the flight path of the rockets from their Russian launch site, Plesetsk, or their Baikonur site begin to seriously object to the danger they are exposed to?
* Similarly, the Chinese people have seldom questioned what their government has done though that day will arrive at some point.
* When protests about danger from rocket launches from Baikonur does happen, what will our response be? It will depend on if we have the ability to launch people from the US at that time. According to Yahoo! News, there are various efforts to give the US the capacity to launch people again but they are years away. There is not much we could do to speed up those projects and so we might have to bring the crews home from the ISS and put it into hibernation.
Charles Phillips has had a long career in the space field: he has worked in space operations since 1978, as an Air Force officer from 1978 until he retired in 2005 (working in space, communications, and maintenance), or as a NASA contractor, and he has been a writer all of that time. Now he finds the stories that people are interested in but might have been missed by other reporters.