When it comes to space exploration, NASA has various procedures in place designed to deal with different situations that can happen outside Earth. One of these includes the proper way to deal with the death of a person in deep space.
In the history of space explorations, astronauts have not yet encountered the death of a crewmate during a mission. But, when this happens, they will most likely follow a set of procedures to ensure that the remains of a deceased astronaut will be handled properly and safely.
Dealing with Death in Space
For short-trip missions, such as those that only involve venturing into low-Earth orbit, it is believed that the spacecraft will immediately return to Earth in case someone on board suddenly dies. However, for deep space exploration missions, such as a crewed expedition to Mars, turning back may not be an option due to the extremely long duration of the trip.
In this kind of scenario, NASA has a specific set of procedures when it comes to dealing with death in deep space. Around a decade ago, the agency collaborated with a Swedish company known as Promessa, which specializes in providing ecological burials. The main concept developed by the company is known as promession, which is a more environmentally friendly alternative to cremation. Basically, it involves freeze-drying a corpse so it can be grounded up into tiny dust particles.
Promession And Body Back
Through the collaboration with NASA, Promessa was able to develop a process known as Body Back. This works by placing the human corpse inside a special airtight body bag that looks like a sleeping bag. Similar to promession, the bag containing the body is then brought outside the spacecraft with the help of a robotic arm. It is exposed to space for about an hour to allow the corpse to completely freeze, Business Insider reported.
Once the bag is brought back on board, it will be subjected to a vibration system. The purpose of this system is to shatter the frozen corpse into a fine powder while still inside the bag. Water from the remains is evaporated using microwaves. The Body Back bag containing the grounded remains of the body is then left hanging outside the spacecraft until it reaches its destination.