As of now, the disposal of dead bodies is not even an issue for space travelers because missions are generally short-term and a host of safety measures. You will hardly hear about any death during space missions.
But what if we embark on a long-term space travel to Mars or any deep space destination? Then the issue of death will become a certainty. Don’t worry, NASA has a remarkable plan to dispose of the dead bodies, although many might find it a bit disturbing.
Currently, there’s no such protocol for dealing with a dead body in a spaceship, be it disposing the body or informing the family. Ironically, astronauts will have to go through a detailed simulation of on-board death situations as an integral part of training ahead of every mission, just in case, it happens during the outer space flight.
If in near future astronauts visit Mars or interstellar travel becomes a successful mission, then we’ll definitely need certain protocols about how to deal with a dead body on the spaceship.
The simplest solution could be just throwing the corpse into space in a body-bag through the airlock and let it float away in the deep dark space.
But wait, stop, you can’t do this! A UN charter categorically forbids this procedure, as it refers it as “littering.” There is a strong possibility that the body may collide with other spaceships or, believe it or not, the corpse may contaminate extraterrestrial entities with human germs.
Yes, that’s a worrying possibility, but it’s also not a good idea to keep the dead body on board for a longer period of time, as it could well make the other astronauts crazy just like we see in movies.
So there has to be an alternate solution. That is where NASA’s “Body Back” program becomes reality.
To avoid any kind of contamination, isolation of the dead body is needed within 24 hours. According to this program, the body would find its place into a GoreTex bag that would act as an inflated sarcophagus.
After that, funeral rites would be done, in a specific location of the ship from where Earth base could be contacted.
Now comes the hardest part.
The GoreTex bag will be carried into the airlock. What next? Float it away into space? Nope, here comes the interesting part. The astronauts would rather expose their beloved crew’s body to space until it’s completely frozen in the cold temperature. Then, in a horrific ending to the chapter, a robotic arm would disintegrate the frozen body into nothing but dust.
Water will eventually evaporate through a small vent, as the vapor travels into space. So, you can say, part of the body will stay in the outer space.
The bag along with the remaining body powder will then fold up into a square box, and the remains ultimately returned to the family when the spaceship comes home. This is a bit disturbing, right? I’m pretty much sure that we would rather want the body just float away into space, just like Dr. Poole in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. But NASA believes it’s a space-friendly and rather a cost-effective option they can’t ignore.
So in the near future, who knows, this could become our body disposal ceremony once we start our journey by living and dying in outer space!