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Have you ever wondered what would be done with the body of an astronaut if he/she died in space? There’s definitely never been an incident to show us proof. The only astronaut ever to come close to dying in space was cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov of the Soviet Union who burned up with his craft on re-entry in to the atmosphere.
But according to Chris Hadfield, an astronaut himself, there is a protocol designed to test the astronauts on what they would do if a team member died. There is a very good chance that someone could die in space. Granted, the preventative measures taken by NASA have stopped anyone from ever meeting that fate but it could still happen.
Astronauts undergo a thorough and intense physical examination before space flight and only stay in space for six months at a time (for the ISS), as long exposure to space can have adverse effects on the body.
Chris Hadfield describes in his book, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”, a death simulation (called death sim) which kills off one astronaut (hypothetically) and allows the others to think of how to dispose of his body. They could shove it in a locker but the smell and the physical and mental health risks would be enormous. Plus a built-in cemetery of sorts would cost millions to send to space. They could dispose of the body in space like Spock was sent off in the Wrath of Khan, but according to a UN agreement, you can’t litter in space because anything could collide with it to trigger a scenario similar to what happened in “Gravity”.
One idea is the “Body Back“, a collaboration between NASA and Promessa, a green burial company. Slip the body in a bag, zip it up, freeze it in space, vibrate it until it shatters and carry the dust home. It seems a little bleak but it’s cost efficient.
With missions to Mars coming up, more options need to be considered, as many are more than likely to die.