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Death in Space Exploration - Promession Use

Updated on July 13, 2016

Death in Space the Moral Dilemma and Practicalities

As the space race continues to heat up the concept of death in space’s brought to the forefront of human ethics. The prospect of how to cope with both the physical, as well as the mental aspects of colleagues dying in space, poses many unique problems. As both the USA and Russia, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), begin to plan manned missions to Mars by 2030 the space race shows no signs of abating. The separate manned missions to Mars in 2030 sees two potentially rival divisions of earth competing for the penultimate space travel achievement. Where India and China remain in this race remains hidden from view at present.

Currently we are also seeing an increase in the weaponisation of space. This can only create further problems for humanity as it develops its natural conclusion unfortunately. The concept of death in space though only really refers to exploration in times of peace not war on a inter-state level.

Who really wants to die in Space?

The thought of death has perhaps never created as many complexities as that of dying in a vacuum
The thought of death has perhaps never created as many complexities as that of dying in a vacuum

Mars and the Manned Mission in 2030

How will Astronauts cope with Death in Space on the Mars Mission in 2030?
How will Astronauts cope with Death in Space on the Mars Mission in 2030?

Mission to Mars anyone?

However what in the unlikely event of somebody, an astronaut for example dying in space? The concept of death in the new frontier of the Universe remains an issue that needs addressing to help solve ethical concerns. The physical trip to Mars takes a staggering 7 months each way in addition to the mission time egression onto Mars itself. The journey remains both hazardous with extreme inherent dangers. The journey to Mars remains unprecedented in the Worlds space travel achievements. Yet the uniqueness of the mission, the range of the project, as well as the inbuilt dangers in a 16 month mission away from Earth, presents problems with regards to human morality as well as biological concerns.

Death’s a messy business in Space

If an astronaut dies in space when on a mission what to do with the body? The body needs storing safely without the risk of contaminating the other crew members, through exposure to biological matter as well as the disease that may have killed the original astronaut. Initial body purification starts almost as soon as a body dies so the need to contain the biological body in an expedited manner remains the key.

The most practical concern remains protecting the other space mission crew members. Sickness and disease that could spread by a deceased corpse in transit needs eliminating. Also the death of a human in space needs to take in consideration of how to cleanse and sterilize the potential biological debris or organic matter from inside the space-ship. This remains important if the death created a mass of biological mess. What space would do to biological elements of the human body over time remains a mystery?

It could be possible to freeze or preserve the body in a containment chamber for the duration of the space mission as well as the return to Earth. Concerns would need to focus on crew and capsule contamination in the unlikely event of power downs etc. However this would at least give the family and member states of the deceased a dignified means of honouring their dead.

Promession a new style of burial

Death in Space and the return to Earth

How will the Astronauts families deal with Death in Space?
How will the Astronauts families deal with Death in Space?

Death in Space a Solution - Promession to dispose of the body

One solution appears to present itself for disposing of a human body that expires in space, its called Promession. Promession exists as a radical ecological technique for processing a human corpse. It offers a solution for a corpse in transit and remains ideal for the confines of space travel. The idea of Promession remains the brainchild of Swedish ecologists Susanne Wiigh-Masak and Peter Masak who initially developed and proposed the idea. Promession works simply by freezing the body, in this instance using the vacuum of space with the body attached to an extendable claw in a retractable bag.

The frozen body’s then vibrated at a very high frequency to force the body to break down into dust. Mercury, metals and water get removed from the human dust. Then the dust’s vacuum-packed in a suitable container. The body’s then ready for burial in a biodegradable coffin upon return to planet Earth. This resolves biological transit concerns, as controversial as the process may sound. Its future for space travel’s already in progress. It may sound like science fiction but its an application that remains outstanding. This process will most likely be used as it offers a high-tech solution to a high-moral standpoint that needs resolution.

Murder she wrote…?

Having established the biological process for degrading a human body what about the cause of death in space? The cause of death however remains extremely hard if not impossible to ascertain. No coroners orinvestigatorswill have jurisdiction on any space travel within the universe. No forensic analysis, medical enquiry, or police investigation can establish the cause of death. With the final act of Promession destroying all evidence the perfect Murder in space could create a nightmare for a resolution upon the astronauts return to face Earth enquires.

Ideological conflict connected to a Death in Space

Now imagine the complexities if the space mission involved several different nationalities often with conflicting ideologies. For example American and the Russian Federation may not offer full cooperation in ascertaining the cause of death. However the full cooperation of the nations involved remains tantamount to establishing the cause of death in space. Questions need resolving about how the cause of death as well as the events leading up to it transpired. If for example the death had occurred accidental, naturally, or even with vicious intent. As yet space investigations are a totally new ball game, however it will become necessary as we develop deep-space exploration.

The psychology of dying in the Universe

Death in space presents many complex psychological effects within the surviving crew members. The allocation of guilt combined with the survivor complex could become a serious detriment to the current mission, perhaps evenjeopardisingthe mission as well as the other crew member’s safety. Effects on the ability of the crew to perform under the stress of the death of a friend or fellow astronaut, could pose a practical concern to the missions success.

Ceremonial rights would take precedent aboard the spacecraft thus allowing crew members to focus their emotion into a positive channel. Transitioning from sorrow to mourning allows the space ships crew members to start the process of healing.

How to bury the dead in space with those rights we would expect on Earth?

The act of mourning Death in Space for the families is problematic, hence why a body or symbol needs to be returned.
The act of mourning Death in Space for the families is problematic, hence why a body or symbol needs to be returned.

Why it’s important to return the body back to Earth

The process of healing still remains vitally important for the deceased’s family back on Earth. The return of the body back to Earth from the exploration within the universe would allow traditional earth-based ceremonies of the dead to reach full closure. Also it allows a nation to mourn the failure of both the space travel mission as well as the loss of the astronaut. The idea of pushing a body out of an airlock into the vacuum that’s space remains an unethical notion, as it denies basic ethical human rights.

Despite the idea that death remains a sour subject to discuss in depth, its consequence remains necessary as humanity develops its space travel missions within the universe. The resolution of biological concerns connected to the deceased ensures the surviving crews safety. However the wild-frontier that’s space presents its own unique problems which need technological as well as moral advances to help achieve resolution. However these essential advances must fit into the ethical understanding of human life and humanity as it redefines itself into the expanse of the universe.

What Should Happen to the Dead in Space?

How should a body be processed in Space?

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    • johndwilliams profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Essex England

      Well with the ration of Mars set for 2035 man is once again focused on pushing into Space - colonization is nto a solution however, it would cost too much money and resources to move Billions of people onto other planets

    • conradofontanilla profile image


      7 years ago from Philippines

      The interest in manned space exploration seems to have died out. There is a lot more challenges on earth that appears to be the most habitable for humans.

    • johndwilliams profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Essex England

      Hi Kashmir56 thanks for the up! I just hope we can avoid this issue for many years - thanks again John

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi johndwilliams, very interesting hub and some very important points to resolve before going where no man has gone yet .

      Awesome and vote up !!!

    • johndwilliams profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Essex England

      Hi Bob,

      Yes there is a remarkable similarity with Space and the RN Bob in terms of the Environmental restrictions. How does the family at home morn the deceased if there is no body though?

    • diogenes profile image


      7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi JD. I served in the RN for some years and saw several burials at sea. (Still done in war time and allowed under special circumstances in peace time). Launching a dead crew member from a space ship into deep space would be similar and I can't see any problem with this. As there would be a doc. on board, i'm sure the cause of death would be known in nearly every case. Interesting subject, though, if slightly macabre...Bob


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