While it doesn’t seem a big deal when we will relay the ground rules to you, it will become so. First of all, it is still a hypothetical situation because NASA hasn’t lost any astronaut in space and for that matter, not even the Russians have lost one. The closest one ever got to dying in space was cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, who made a hard entry into the atmosphere. Most of the accidents happen in the unforgiving atmosphere rather than space, especially at launch and landing. Now coming back to a potential dead astronaut in space, it would raise several problems for the crew. Here are some of them:
1. They can’t shove him in a locker as the mental and physical risks would be enormous.
2. A pre-built cemetery would cost millions of dollars and it is not something in NASA’s plans at all. A dead guy is a dead guy and probably most of his body would be destroyed before the next manned shuttle arrived at the International Space Station.
3. They could theoretically still release the body directly in space just like they did with Spock in vintage Star Trek but that is not the thing you would expect from fellow astronauts. Even if they were so cold-hearted to pull this off, they couldn’t do it as international space laws dictate that no garbage be dumped while in orbit as it could potentially crash or interfere with other objects lying in similar orbits.
So, in space everything changes. The best procedure that has come forward in recent years is called the “Body Back” process involving NASA and Promessa, a green burial company. So what you do is zip the body in a bag, freeze it completely in space and vibrate it till it breaks into tiny pieces and eventually powder. It is very cost efficient but still quite cold-hearted, don’t you agree?
With the proposed mission of mars coming up, it is essential to come up with better burial plans as the sheer length of the mission would mean that deaths would become inevitable as the space is known to weaken human body a LOT.
Do you have any better suggestions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.