There is no doubt that sending humans into space is a very dangerous and challenging endeavor.
In the 20 years since the start of human space travel, three cosmonauts died on the Soyuz 11 mission in 1971, three astronauts perished in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire in 1967, and 14 people perished in the NASA space shuttle catastrophes in 1986 and 2003.
In consideration of how challenging human spaceflight is, it is truly amazing how few fatalities have occurred so far. But in the following ten years, NASA intends to send astronauts to Mars and a crew to the Moon.
Commercial space travel has become commonplace. As the use of space travel increases, so does the chance that someone might pass away while traveling there.
It reminds me of a somber but vital question: What happens to the body if someone passes away in space?
Death on the Moon and Mars
I want to make sure that space explorers are as healthy as they can be for space missions as a space medical specialist who researches new methods to keep astronauts healthy, along with my team at the Translational Research Institute for Space Health.
Here is how we would respond to mortality in space today: If someone perished while in low-Earth orbit, such as on board the International Space Station, the crew might quickly return the body to Earth in a capsule.
If it occurred on the Moon, the crew could quickly return to Earth with the body. For such situations, NASA already has elaborate systems in place.
Because of the fast return, it is likely that NASA would place more emphasis on ensuring the safety of the surviving crew’s return to Earth than on maintaining the body.
If an astronaut perished during the 300 million-mile journey to Mars, everything would be changed.
The crew most likely wouldn’t be able to turn around and head back in those situation. Instead, at the conclusion of the mission, which would be a few years later, the body would probably return to Earth together with the crew.
The crew would likely preserve the body in a separate room or specialized body bag in the interim. The body would supposedly be preserved by the spacecraft’s constant temperature and humidity.
All those circumstances, however, would only be relevant if the fatality occurred in a pressurized location, such as a space station or a spacecraft.
What would happen if someone entered space without a spacesuit to protect them?
Almost immediately, the astronaut would pass away. The astronaut would be unable to breathe due to the pressure drop and exposure to space’s vacuum, and their blood and other bodily fluids would boil.
What would happen if an astronaut descended from orbit without a spacesuit onto the Moon or Mars?
There is very little atmosphere on the Moon, hardly none. There is almost no oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars. Therefore, the outcome would be similar to being exposed to open air: suffocation and boiling blood.
What about burial?
Let’s say the astronaut passed away on Mars’ surface after landing.
Cremation is undesirable since it consumes too much energy that the crew members who survive would rather use for other things. Additionally, burial is not a smart move. The Martian surface might become contaminated by bacteria and other creatures from the body.
Until it could be brought back to Earth, the crew would probably maintain the body in a special body bag.
There are still a lot of questions regarding how explorers would handle a death. Not merely the issue of what to do with the body is involved.
Just as crucial as how the deceased’s remains are handled is how the crew handles the loss and how the grieving families back on Earth are helped.
However, in order to actually colonize distant worlds, whether the Moon, Mars, or a planet outside of our solar system, planning and regulations will be needed.