If you were exposed to the harsh depths of space, you’d lose consciousness in 15 seconds, and be dead within 30 seconds to 1 minute.
But what if you’re wearing an advanced, powerful spacesuit? Well, that would buy you about 6 hours before your oxygen runs out, and then you’d still be dead.
So what would happen to your body? Would someone come to retrieve it? Or would it just keep floating through space forever?
The human race has only lost 18 people in more than 50 years of space exploration. But with upcoming plans for civilian space travel and journeys to Mars, odds are that we’re going to start seeing a lot more space deaths.
So how would we hold a funeral in zero gravity? What complications would be involved?
Every time astronauts launch into space, death is a genuine possibility. They are essentially strapping themselves to giant rockets, after all.
But because astronauts have to be in top-notch health for a mission, the odds of one of them dying on the International Space Station are pretty low; so low that NASA doesn’t even have an official policy for how to handle the situation.
According to former astronaut Chris Hadfield, it would be up to the commander of the ISS to decide what to do.
The first problem at hand would be that there’s nowhere to store the body, space stations don’t come with built-in morgues. One solution would be to keep the body in a pressurized suit, and move it somewhere cold; dead bodies are biohazards so you’d want to keep the bacteria as far away and contained as possible.
But what if you don’t like the idea of sharing your quarters with a stiff? Well, there are other solutions.
In 2005, a Swedish company proposed a system that essentially freeze dries bodies, and breaks them up into tiny pieces of frozen tissue, kind of like a cremation.
This would take up far less space, eliminate the whole biohazard threat, and allow for an easier return to Earth. If you don’t happen to have any liquid nitrogen aboard the ship to do the freezing, the ice cold temperature of space will do the trick.
Actually, now that we mention it, could the most obvious solution have been staring us in the face this whole time? Sailors used to bury their dead at sea, so couldn’t astronauts do the same and send theirs off into space?
Theoretically yes, but space is a little more complicated than the sea. Unless you strapped a mini rocket to the deceased, they would end up following the trajectory of the spacecraft from which they were ejected.
And if you did that with more than one person, it would make for an unpleasant journey when you decided to turn back home. Okay so maybe that’s not the best option, so what if we waited until we reached our destination? We bury people on Earth, so surely we can do the same thing on other planets, right?
Well, the digging would be a little different, but that wouldn’t be our biggest problem. Human bodies, especially the non-living variety, are full of Earthly microbes and bacteria that would contaminate any potentially habitable locale.
Even the spacecrafts exploring Mars have to be repeatedly cleaned and sanitized to protect the alien planet from Earthly bugs; so the only surefire way to safely dispose of a body there would be through cremation.
Well, we hope this hasn’t ruined the majesty of space travel for you, but it’s a reality we have to consider as we move further into the age of space exploration.
- “Consent Form | Popular Science”. 2019. popsci.com. Accessed February 25 2019.
- “What Happens To Your Body If You Die In Space?“. Rossen, Jake, 2019. mentalfloss.com. Accessed February 25 2019.
- “How Long Can A Human Survive In Outer Space?”. Garden, Home. 2000. Howstuffworks. Accessed February 25 2019.
- “How Long Would An Astronaut Survive If They Became Separated From The Space Station?”. 2019. forbes.com. Accessed February 25 2019.
- “Burial At Sea: Seven Things To Know”. 2019. BBC News. Accessed February 25 2019.