What Happens if Someone Dies in Space?

As NASA looks towards the future of space exploration, including manned missions to the moon and Mars, the question arises: What if someone were to pass away while in space? Although no fatalities have occurred in space itself, the possibility of death during long-distance space travel raises important considerations for space agencies and researchers worldwide.

One of the most dangerous scenarios in space travel is being exposed to the vacuum of space without a properly pressurized suit. This could occur due to a suit malfunction or spacecraft failure. If an accident were to happen during a spacewalk, such as being struck by a micro-meteorite, an astronaut’s suit could be punctured, leading to rapid incapacitation.

The effects of exposure to space are severe. The vacuum causes bodily fluids to boil and blood to vaporize, resulting in unconsciousness within about 15 seconds due to asphyxiation or decompression. Within approximately 10 seconds, the rapid vaporization of water in the skin and blood would cause bodily expansion and lung collapse, leading to paralysis within 30 seconds.

However, contrary to popular belief, the body would not instantly freeze in space due to the absence of heat loss mechanisms. Heat loss in a vacuum occurs only through fluid evaporation and slow radiation, which means that the transition to a frozen, mummified state would be prolonged. The body could potentially float through space for millions of years until encountering external factors such as heat or radiation from another celestial body.

The recovery of a body in space would depend on the duration and destination of the mission. For shorter missions like those to the International Space Station (ISS) or the moon, retrieval to Earth would likely be feasible. However, for longer journeys such as a round trip to Mars, freezing the body in space or using specialized preservation methods would be necessary due to the remote location of the crew.

Furthermore, radiation exposure poses additional challenges to space travel. Mars, in particular, has higher radiation levels compared to Earth, which could impact astronauts’ cardiovascular health and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications.

As we consider the potential challenges of future human missions to Mars, the moon, and beyond, it is vital to prioritize safety measures and be prepared for any scenario that may arise. Currently, NASA’s primary focus is on returning to the moon through the Artemis program, which marks a crucial step in our continued exploration of space.