If a person dies in space, what happens to the body? This is what NASA protocol says

What should astronauts do if one of them dies during a mission?
Cindy Fernandez

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Astronauts risking their lives on every mission is nothing new. Since human space exploration began 60 years ago, 20 people have died: 14 in the 1986 and 2003 NASA space shuttle Challenger tragedies, 3 astronauts during the 1971 Soyuz 11 mission, and 3 astronauts in the Apollo 1 launch fire. In 1967. Still, Amazingly, no deaths in space have been recorded to date.

With the increase in the number of increasingly long journeys and the possibility of embarking on tours outside the confines of our planet, it will only be a matter of time before someone discovers their ultimate destination. Even if it sounds like a lieThroughout this time ethics focused on prevention, not much was said about what to do if it happened.

In 2003, the European Space Agency (ESA) published “Guidelines for the Management of Space Debris” that included recommendations for the disposal of human remains in space. Also in 2021, NASA published a paper entitled “Death in Space: Ethical Considerations – Gateway, Orion, the Moon, Mars and Beyond,” which discusses the challenges and options for managing death in space in the context of future missions.

Despite this, There is no universal protocol for dying in space. And each varies depending on the task and type of death. These are some possibilities.

Dying is a problem: what to do with the body?

Solutions depend on what the task is. If the deceased is on a short or low-altitude mission en route to the International Space Station (ISS) or the Moon, it is possible to return the body to Earth. In both cases, the crew can return the body to a capsule within a few days.

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NASA is trying to develop a body bag that can hold a body on the spacecraft for 48 to 72 hours. This is enough time to return to Earth from the International Space Station.

But the situation gets complicated on long journeys. For example, if it happens on the way to Mars, The crew must live with the corpse for at least two years. So we have to look for other alternatives.

moving through space

This seems like a pretty logical solution, but it's not an option. During Spock's funeral on “Star Trek,” opening the ship's airlock and sending the body adrift in a vacuum violates a serious international rule. UN says that you can't dump garbage in space. The deal says that includes dumping dead bodies.

Universe, life
An international treaty prohibits the dumping of bodies

This is why Bodies floating in a vacuum can collide with other spacecraft Or float to other planets and colonize them with human remains and bacteria and organisms living in and on the body.

Save until you return home

Suppose it is decided to hand over the body to its next of kin. To slow down decomposition, it should be stored in a separate, very cool, constant humidity room. Garbage and food scraps are usually kept in the same place. But after some time, the bad smell can start and it poses a danger to the health of the crew.

Although it seems the most logical decision to put the brave astronaut next to the junk, Not the best idea in terms of public relations and the reputation of the space agency.

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Body bags

One of the protocol's most interesting projects to address death in space is the collaboration between the environmental burial company Promesa and NASA, from which the idea of ​​the “body bag” emerged. Body again It involves an airtight sleeping bag in which a human cadaver is sealed and then exposed to freezing temperatures. from outer space.

The vacuum instantly evaporates all body fluids, significantly reducing its mass.

A frozen body is brought aboard It vibrates vigorously until it disintegrates. Finally, about 25 kg of human body powder can be hung outside the spacecraft until it reaches its destination.

NASA, Corpse
NASA explores new innovations for managing death in space

The latter may be the most appropriate way to protect the body in case this situation occurs. But there are still many unknowns about how explorers will deal with a death.

Not just today The question of what to do with the body is discussed, but how and who will inform the rest of the group. To the agency and to the family awaiting the arrival of a loved one.

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