Death in space: here's what would happen to our bodies

Asia's Tech News Daily

Nasa / Unsplash, CC BY-NC

As space travel for recreational purposes is becoming a very real possibility, there could come a time when we are travelling to other planets for holidays, or perhaps even to live. Commercial space company Blue Origin has already started sending paying customers on sub-orbital flights. And Elon Musk hopes to start a base on Mars with his firm SpaceX.

This means we need to start thinking about what it will be like to live in space – but also what will happen if someone dies there.

After death here on Earth the human body progresses through a number of stages of decomposition. These were described as early as 1247 in Song Ci’s The Washing Away of Wrongs, essentially the first forensic science handbook.

First the blood stops flowing and begins to pool as a result of gravity, a process known as livor mortis. Then the body cools to algor mortis, and the muscles stiffen due to uncontrolled build-up of calcium in the muscle fibres. This is the state of rigor mortis. Next enzymes, proteins which speed up chemical reactions, break down cell walls releasing their contents.

At the same time, the bacteria in our gut escape and spread throughout the body. They devour the soft tissues – putrefaction – and the gases they release cause the body to swell. Rigor mortis is undone as the muscles are destroyed, strong smells are emitted and the soft tissues are broken down.

These decomposition processes are the intrinsic factors, but there are also external factors which influence the process of decomposition, including temperature, insect activity, burying or wrapping a body, and the presence of fire or water.

Mummification, the desiccation or drying out of the body, occurs in dry conditions which can be hot or cold.

In damp environments without oxygen, adipocere formation can occur, where the water can cause the breakdown of fats into a waxy material through the process of hydrolysis. This waxy coating can act as a barrier on top of the skin to protect and preserve it.

But in most cases, the soft tissues will ultimately disappear to reveal the skeleton. These hard tissues are much more resilient and can survive for thousands of years.

Halting decomposition

So, what about death in the final frontier?

Well, the different gravity seen on other planets will certainly impact the livor mortis stage, and the lack of gravity while floating in space would mean that blood would not pool.

Inside a spacesuit, rigor mortis would still occur since it is the result of the cessation of bodily functions. And bacteria from the gut would still devour the soft tissues. But these bacteria need oxygen to function properly and so limited supplies of air would significantly slow down the process.

Microbes from the soil also help decomposition, and so any planetary environment that inhibits microbial action, such as extreme dryness, improves the chances of soft tissue preserving.

Decomposition in conditions so different from the Earth’s environment means that external factors would be more complicated, such as with the skeleton. When we are alive, bone is a living material comprising both organic materials like blood vessels and collagen, and inorganic materials in a crystal structure.

Normally, the organic component will decompose, and so the skeletons we see in museums are mostly the inorganic remnants. But in very acidic soils, which we may find on other planets, the reverse can happen and the inorganic component can disappear leaving only the soft tissues.

On Earth the decomposition of human remains forms part of a balanced ecosystem where nutrients are recycled by living organisms, such as insects, microbes and even plants. Environments on different planets will not have evolved to make use of our bodies in the same efficient way. Insects and scavenging animals are not present on other planets in our system.

But the dry desert-like conditions of Mars might mean that the soft tissues dry out, and perhaps the windblown sediment would erode and damage the skeleton in a way that we see here on Earth.

The arid environment of Mars., CC BY-NC

Temperature is also a key factor in decomposition. On the Moon, for example, temperatures can range from 120°C to -170°C. Bodies could therefore show signs of heat-induced change or freezing damage.

But I think it is likely that remains would still appear human as the full process of decomposition that we see here on Earth would not occur. Our bodies would be the “aliens” in space. Perhaps we would need to find a new form of funerary practice, which does not involve the high energy requirements of cremation or the digging of graves in a harsh inhospitable environment.

Read more: William Shatner oldest astronaut at 90 – here's how space tourism could affect older people

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Tim Thompson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Internet Explorer Channel Network
Asia's Tech News Daily
News Related


'Nobody' in Biden's West Wing is shutting down chatter of Buttigieg as a potential presidential successor: report

Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.AP Photo/Evan Vucci Buttigieg is being openly discussed a potential Biden successor in the West Wing, per Politico. Some staffers of color feel that the chatter ... Read more »

Craig Revel Horwood reprimanded by fellow Strictly judges over Dan Walker criticisms

Craig Revel Horwood faced the wrath of his fellow Strictly Come Dancing judges over his criticisms of Dan Walker. The judge – who made his return to the panel this ... Read more »

Ryan Reynolds honoured with Canada's Governor General's Award

© Bang Showbiz Ryan Reynolds reacts to new honour from Canada’s Governor General Ryan Reynolds was left speechless after being honoured with Canada’s Governor General’s Award on Friday night (26.11.21). ... Read more »

Ukraine's president warns of oligarch-backed coup with £1billion price tag NEXT WEEK as he claims billionaire businessman is a conspirator following intelligence 'uncovered by the US'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned of intelligence of coup FridayClaimed a Russia-backed attempt against him is expected in the next week He alleged the '$1 billion' coup also involves one of Ukraine's top oligarchs - businessman Rinat AkhmetovComes as Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian frontier Read more »

Disgraced Gov. Cuomo's 'mean girl' Melissa DeRosa slams Gov. Hochul over her handling of pandemic in deleted tweet just HOURS after she declared a state of emergency for NY to deal with Omicron

Melissa DeRosa, Cuomo's 'mean girl' and top aide, had some harsh words for his successor's handling of the coronavirus on Friday night in a now-deleted tweet The tweet came just hours after Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency across the Empire State to deal with the ominous Omicron variantDeRosa's tweet also comes weeks after Hochul was spotted maskless inside a crowded Manhattan sports bar back in October 'Time to shift with the times — ribbon cuttings and photo ops drinking beers in UES bars maskless won't get this job done,' DeRosa, tweeted then deleted Hochul, the state's former lieutenant governor, has been similarly criticized by several other political opponents over the last several weeks The former Cuomo Secretary's tweets come amidst rising concerns of the Omicron variant in the face Hochul's approach to the evolving health crisis While no Omicron variant cases have been found yet in the US, there have been confirmed cases in other countries, from Israel to Botswana and recently the UK Read more »

At least 30 people burglarize a Best Buy in Minnesota on Black Friday

At least 30 people entered a Best Buy store in Burnsville, Minnesota, on Black Friday and stole electronics, according to a Burnsville Police statement obtained by CNN affiliate WCCO. © ... Read more »

'That was a 40!' Strictly fans slam judges for 'undermarking' AJ Odudu after Motsi Mabuse's replacement Cynthia Erivo gives Dan Walker a higher score

Outraged Strictly Come Dancing fans took to Twitter on Saturday night to slam the judges for ‘undermarking’ AJ Odudu’s routine.  The presenter, 33, and her professional partner Kai Widdrington, 26, danced ... Read more »

Quarantining with your partner can be tough – expert explains why having a ‘happy hour' can help to turn it into a bonding experience

A relationship expert explains how quarantine should be seen as an opportunity for reconnecting – plan a daily routine and respect one another’s personal space ‘Spend quality time with no ... Read more »

Vom Rock-Olymp an die Uni Bern: Glückwunsch, Dr. Turner!

Hohe Würde: Tina Turner bekommt den Ehrendoktortitel der Uni Bern. © ALBERTO VENZAGO Glückwunsch, Dr. Turner! Von der Rock and Roll Hall of Fame an die Uni: Sängerin Tina Turner ... Read more »

Michigan topples Ohio State for Jim Harbaugh's first win over rival

Hassan Haskins scored five touchdowns in Michigan’s win over Ohio State. Getty Images Jim Harbaugh finally has his first win over Ohio State and Michigan is in position to reach ... Read more »

BBC Strictly Come Dancing: Proud dad Gordon Ramsay wipes away tears after Tilly's dance as fans joke judges are scared of him

Tilly Ramsay, 20, took to the Strictly dancefloor to battle for her place in next week’s quarter-final and one member of the audience couldn’t handle the pressure. Tilly’s famous dad ... Read more »

SCD: Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice perform a Paso Doble

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo The tenth week of Strictly Come Dancing kicked off on Saturday night with a powerful Paso Doble by Rose Ayling-Ellis and her pro ... Read more »

Everything you need to know about Idris Elba's stunning wife and his previous marriages

Idris Elba boasts a very impressive career, having starred in a variety of hit films and TV series. The actor, 49, has received tons of praise for his incredible performances ... Read more »

The best 4K Blu-ray player deals still live this Black Friday weekend

With an expanding body of 4K movies available on disc and prices falling fast, curating a comprehensive home cinema library has never been easier. Whether you’re looking to get started ... Read more »

Kris Boyson 'misses' ex-fiancee Katie Price's kids, especially Harvey

Kris Boyson “misses” ex-fiancee Katie Price’s kids. © Bang Showbiz Kris Boyson admits he misses Katie Price’s kids The fitness trainer was propelled into the spotlight in 2018 when he ... Read more »

Everton and Liverpool fans unite with anti-knife crime banner after death of Ava White

An Everton fan and a Liverpool fan are coming together to create an anti-knife crime banner for Wednesday’s Merseyside Derby in the wake of 12-year-old Ava White’s death. The Year ... Read more »

Omicron: First two cases of new Covid variant detected in UK

Breaking news (Independent) Two infections with the new Omicron variant have been detected in the UK, it has been announced. The cases – in Chelmsford and Nottingham – are “linked” ... Read more »

61 COVID-19 cases found on flight from South Africa to Netherlands amid screening for new variant

Sixty-one COVID-19 cases were detected on an international flight from South Africa to the Netherlands on Friday, according to Dutch health officials. The cases were detected among passengers on two ... Read more »

Omicron variant: Biden makes fresh plea to Americans to get vaccinated as he puts travel restrictions on eight countries

President Joe Biden announced on Friday that his administration would ban travel from eight countries beginning on Monday, as the US seeks to prevent the spread of a new Covid-19 ... Read more »

UK Car Industry Wants Government To Support EV Uptake

© Copyright Ford E-Transit charging The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) says the right government support is critical. A leading car industry body has called on the ... Read more »

Storm Arwen: Travel chaos as hundreds of passengers face cancelled flights and trains

(PA) Travellers were hit with long delays on Saturday as Storm Arwen brought heavy rain and 100mph gusts across swathes of the UK. Train services were cancelled and hundreds of ... Read more »

How to complete the Legally Blonde Challenge in BitLife

© Provided by GamePur The weekend has arrived, and with it, the latest BitLife challenge has come. This week is the Legally Blonde Challenge. You’ll be working your way through ... Read more »

Warzone Pro Player Nearly Kicked From $110K Vanguard Tourney Due to Photoshopped Clip

Pro Warzone player Flxnked was reportedly falsely accused of cheating in the middle of the Call of Duty: Vanguard $110,000 Black Friday Search & Save tournament Friday night after someone ... Read more »

No cup shock for former Rangers hero as Hearts loanee bags treble in Alloa's beating of Bonnyrigg Rose

It might have been a day for slipping and sliding in some parts of the country, but Alloa Athletic were impressively surefooted in negotiating their way past the potential banana ... Read more »

Manchester United fans give unanimous verdict on Ralph Rangnick appointment

Manchester United do not have a brilliant track record of late, in terms of making decisions that are popular with supporters. Barring the summer signing of Cristiano Ronaldo — a ... Read more »

Blackpool boss makes Birmingham City admission after Championship defeat

Blackpool manager Neil Critchley believes his side had Birmingham City “on the ropes” before losing at St Andrew’s. Birmingham emerged 1-0 winners thanks to a late goal from striker Lukas ... Read more »

Mason Mount sends warning over 'top class' Manchester United for Chelsea fixture

Mason Mount admits he doesn’t know what to expect from Manchester United following a hectic week at Old Trafford. United head to Stamford Bridge on Sunday to take on Mount’s ... Read more »

What channel is Livingston vs Rangers? Live stream, TV and kick off details for the Premiership clash

It’s the first league game of the Giovanni van Bronckhorst era as Rangers face Livingston. After the first win of the Dutchman’s tenure in the Europa League against Sparta Prague, ... Read more »

Arsenal's young stars rewarded ‘real trust', says Mikel Arteta

© PA Wire Mikel Arteta was delighted after his team rewarded his trust (Zac Goodwin/PA) – PA Wire Mikel Arteta hailed Arsenal’s young Gunners for repaying his “real trust” to ... Read more »

Putin sparks war fears as Russia begins production of nuke missile ‘too fast to block'

Moscow has claimed that the 6670mph weapon – which carries a conventional or nuclear warhead – is “unstoppable”. The missile has been dubbed the Zircon missile by the Kremlin. A ... Read more »

Reports: Italy, Germany report cases of omicron COVID-19 variant

MILAN — Reports: Italy, Germany report cases of omicron COVID-19 variant. Read more »

Video: French presidential hopeful Michel Barnier vows to TEAR UP border treaty with Britain and let ALL migrants travel to the UK to claim asylum after 'petulant' Macron's bust-up with Boris over tragedy that killed 27 

Read more »

Video: 'He made me wear it!' Victoria Beckham takes fashion tips from husband David as she rocks a tweed flat cap in PDA-filled country snap

Read more »

Iraqi family of Channel shipwreck victim mourn her death

© Safin HAMED Portraits and flowers are placed in the bedroom of Iraqi Kurdish migrant Maryam Nuri Hama Amin, also known as Baran, who was one of at least 27 ... Read more »

More European countries find Omicron cases as concern grows

© Provided by Al Jazeera People wait in front of a desk for quarantine and COVID-19 test appointments inside Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands [Eva Plevier/Reuters] The United Kingdom, ... Read more »

Michigan's Hassan Haskins scores 3rd touchdown

Michigan isn’t messing around on this Saturday. © Provided by Touchdown Wire The Game is midway through the third quarter and the Wolverines are pushing around Ohio State. Donovan Edwards ... Read more »

Hall of Famer Curley Culp dies at 75

Pro Football Hall of Famer Curley Culp died Saturday after a battle with stage IV pancreatic cancer. He was 75. © Reuters/Kirby Lee NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-Enshrinement Ceremony ... Read more »

Rams rule out Ben Skowronek vs. Packers, promote Landen Akers from practice squad

The Rams will be somewhat shorthanded again at wide receiver this week. Ben Skowronek popped up on the injury report Friday with a back injury, causing the team to list ... Read more »

PL hits and misses: Liverpool back to their old, old selves?

Liverpool return to their old, old selves “I was not happy with the way we conceded chances today, to be honest.” © Getty Jurgen Klopp’s post-match assessment may seem odd ... Read more »

Kirsty Gallacher quits GB News after finding tumour

Kirsty Gallacher GB News presenter Kirsty Gallacher has stepped down from her role at the channel because of a tumour in her ear. The broadcaster, 45, who co-hosts Great British ... Read more »
On you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic