There is no doubt that sending humans into space is an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous challenge.
Since human space exploration began just over 60 years ago, 20 people have died: 14 in the NASA space shuttle tragedies of 1986 and 2003, 3 during the 1971 Soyuz 11 mission, and another 3 in the the launch pad for Apollo 1 in 1967.
Because of how complicated spaceflight is, it’s actually remarkable the small number of people who have lost their lives until now.
But NASA plans to send a crew to the Moon in 2025 and astronauts to Mars in the next decade.
Also, commercial spaceflight is becoming routine.
So as space travel becomes more common, so do the chances of someone dying along the way.
This makes me think of something grim but necessary: what happens to the body if someone dies in space?
Death on the Moon or Mars
As a space doctor working to find new ways to keep astronauts healthy At the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, my team and I want to make sure space explorers are as healthy as possible for space missions.
To this day it is how we manage death in space: if someone were to die on a mission in low-Earth orbit, such as aboard the International Space Station, the crew could return the body to Earth in a capsule in a matter of hours.
If it happened on the moon, the crew could return home with the body in as little as a few days.
NASA already has detailed protocols for such events.
Because of that rapid return, the preservation of the body is likely not NASA’s primary concern.
Instead, the number one priority would be making sure the remaining crew makes it back to Earth safely.
things would be different if an astronaut were to die during the 300 million mile journey to Mars.
In that scenario, the crew would probably I couldn’t turn around and go back.
Instead, the body would likely return to Earth along with the crew at the end of the mission, which would be a couple of years later.
In the meantime, the crew will probably have to take care of preserving the body in a separate chamber or in a body bag specialized.
In theory, constant temperature and humidity inside the spacecraft would help to preserve the body.
But all those scenarios would apply only if someone died in a pressurized environmentsuch as a station or a spaceship.
What would happen if someone went into space without the protection of a space suit?
The astronaut would die almost instantly.
The pressure loss and the exposure to the vacuum of space they would make it impossible for the astronaut to breathe.
Blood and other bodily fluids would boil.
What would happen if an astronaut went to the Moon or Mars without a space suit?
The Moon has almost no atmosphere.
For its part, Mars has a very thin atmosphere and almost no oxygen.
So the result would be almost the same as exposure to open space: suffocation and boiling blood.
What about the burial?
Suppose the astronaut died after landing, while on the surface of Mars.
The cremation not Is the best option.
It requires too much energy that the remaining crew needs for other purposes.
AND burial is not a good idea either.
Bacteria and other body organisms could contaminate the Martian surface.
Instead, the crew would probably preserve the body in a specialized body bag until it could be returned to Earth.
There are still many unknowns about how to deal with a death in space.
It is not just the question of what to do with the body.
Helping the crew deal with loss and families with grief on Earth is just as important as handle the remains of the person who died.
But to truly colonize other worlds, be it the Moon, Mars, or a planet outside our solar system, this grim scenario will require planning and protocols.
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