How Astronauts Handle Death in Space: Protocols and Challenges

2023-12-11 18:08:00

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    Without their protective spacesuit, astronauts would immediately suffocate in space. (Archive image) © NASA

    Space is deadly for people without equipment. But how do you actually deal with a person who dies in space? A space doctor has ideas.

    Frankfurt – The challenge of transporting people safely into space is enormous and involves considerable risks. Emmanuel Urquieta, professor of space medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, points on the platform The Conversation thereupon, that in the more than 60 years of human space exploration, 20 astronauts have already lost their lives. The NASA space shuttle disasters in 1986 and 2003 were particularly tragic, in which a total of 14 astronauts died.

    Despite the complexity and dangers of manned space travel, this number is comparatively low. NASA has ambitious plans: It wants to send a crew to the moon by 2025 and transport space travelers to Mars in the next decade. However, as space activity increases, the risk of dying in space also increases.

    What to do if an astronaut dies on the ISS?

    Let’s imagine a crew member dies on the International Space Station (ISS) in low-Earth orbit. According to Urquieta, in this case the body could be returned to Earth in a capsule within a few hours. If such a death were to occur on the moon, the return to Earth, including the deceased, would take a few days. NASA has developed special protocols for such exceptional situations. The safety and well-being of the remaining crew members have the highest priority, emphasizes the expert.

    However, a completely different scenario arises if an astronaut dies on the month-long journey to Mars. An immediate return would then not be possible. According to Urquieta, it would be more likely that the body would return to Earth with the crew only after the mission was completed – possibly years later. Until then, the dead body would be preserved by the constant temperature and humidity inside the spacecraft.

    Space is deadly for humans

    A person who steps into space without a protective spacesuit would die immediately. The vacuum in space would make breathing impossible and cause the blood to boil. The situation is similar on the Moon or Mars: Without a spacesuit, a person would suffocate in the thin atmosphere.

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    Urquieta warns against burning the corpse as this would use up valuable energy. Burial would also be problematic because bacteria and other microorganisms from the dead body could contaminate the surface of Mars. The best solution would be to store the body in a special bag and return it to Earth after the mission is over.

    Sudden death in space: There are no guidelines yet

    There are still no clear guidelines on how astronauts should deal with a sudden death in space. It’s not just about treating the corpse. It is equally important to provide support to the remaining crew members and those left behind on Earth. In order to colonize the moon and other planets outside our solar system, clear answers to these outstanding questions must be found. (phf)

    The editor wrote this article and then used an AI language model for optimization at his own discretion. All information has been carefully checked.

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