The November 29, 2009 article “NASA clamors for safer launches ” states that space shuttle astronauts have a one in 129 chance of dying during the launch and ascent of the space shuttle.
The Astronaut Office, located at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake City, Texas (just south of Houston), has stated that it would like to see that ratio improve to one in 1,000, about a ten fold improvement in safety, for the next-generation crew launch system for Project Constellation.
The head of the Astronaut Office, astronaut Peggy Whitson, is quoted within the article to have said about the new manned launch system: it should “… dramatically improve crew survivability…. We believe an order-of-magnitude improvement is possible with today's technology and should be the goal."
After the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and its seven-member crew in 1986 and the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew in 2003, other experts in the field also agree.
Several safety advisory boards to NASA have made that same recommendation for increased safety to U.S. astronauts.
The White House is currently considering which launch vehicle will be provided to lift astronauts into space for the next-generation program for NASA: Project Constellation.
With the Space Shuttle program retiring in 2010 or 2011, the Constellation program is scheduled to begin operations in 2014 or 2015.
For additional information on increased safety for U.S. astronauts, please read the informative Florida Today article mentioned earlier.