Red-Shirt Risk: How Likely Is It That You’ll Die?

Remember that moment in the movie Star Trek (2009) when James T. Kirk, Hikaru Sulu and the red-shirted Engineer Olson don spacesuits, and free-style plummet from orbit to a giant machine threatening the planet below?

For those who didn’t see it: We hate to ruin the surprise for you, but … Olson didn’t make it. It was an homage to an old joke stemming from Star Trek‘s original series (1966-69). In that show, anonymous crew members in red shirts frequently died to demonstrate how risky a certain voyage was to the main cast.

How statistically accurate is that assertion of red shirts dying more often than others? One Star Trek geek – who happens to deal in analytics for a living – put it to the test.

His analysis says 73% of deaths in that series were red-shirted crew members. If you’re gonna die, he adds, there’s a better-than-even chance that will happen if you’re a part of a landing party.

“Besides not getting involved in fights, which usually proved fatal, the crewmen could avoid beaming down to the planet’s surface, which is inherent to their end,” wrote Matt Bailey, president of SiteLogic, an online marketing consultancy based in Ohio.

So the answer is simple, it appears: Refuse to leave the spacecraft. But in Star Trek‘s military-like universe, it’s not that easy. “That could result in a court-martial for failure to obey orders,” Bailey added.

So it’s jail, or death. Quite the choice.

Bailey then continues his analysis on the best chances for red-shirt survival (hint: it has to do with Captain Kirk’s frequent romantic dalliances – which raises the survival rate by 84%) and how best to present the data on Star Trek deaths.

Bailey’s post is more than five years old, but still an entertaining read for Star Trek fans and statistics geeks alike.

Lead image courtesy of Star Trek Inspirational Posters.

Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.,  CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.

11 Replies to “Red-Shirt Risk: How Likely Is It That You’ll Die?”

    1. Best spoof: South Park “Bus on the Edge of Forever”

      When the red-shirted school-boy can’t stand it anymore, and leaves the bus — you can guess the rest. Interesting because he should have “just stayed on the ship!”

    1. Lets hope this isn’t the beginning of a website’s version of network decay, where a network that starts with a specific subject abandons it for more popular things that bring greater viewership and ad revenue.

  1. Another question I would like answered is, how come that despite humans never having encountered the Borg before, all the Borg drones ever seen, right from the first meeting, are human? That is, not just humanoid, but human, without any pointed ears, forehead ridges or anything. The Borg had by that time assimilated several thousand different species, so where are they? I think we should be told.

    1. I want to know why everyone kept using energy weapons, when projectile weapons did wonders against them – as shown in, what was it, First Contact? When Picard used a Thompson from the safety-unlocked holodeck?

    2. You clearly don’t watch enough Star Trek. …A race of ancient humanoids, probably the Preservers, seeded humanoid life around the galaxy, that is why most aliens look similar and have similar language patterns. The Borg did assimilate plenty of other species; but mostly humanoids (Human, Kingon, Hirogen, Vulcan, Ferengi, Talaxians, Kazon, Chevullians, Hazari, …etc ) If they couldn’t assimilate a species, the Borg probably destroyed or ignored the non humanoids they encountered (ie: species 5973 or Species 8472 that came from Fluidic Space). FYI: Humans are Species 5618.

      1. Oh I can assure you I have seen every episode of every series (except the most recent film), most more than once, although I don’t wear the gear or speak Klingon!

        I know about the Preservers of course, but only humans don’t have any other face furniture such as forehead “spoons” or ridges, pointed or conch shaped ears, bichromatic faces etc.

        Considering humans had never even heard of the Borg before Q arranged a meeting how come, of all the thousands of species previously assimilated, the ONLY ones we ever see look exactly the same as us?

        It’ll be harder to explain than the pre Motion Picture Klingons.

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