Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Touchy Issues In Space

So what do you do with a dead body in space? No one has yet had to deal with that issue, but NASA is finally, after all these decades, formulating a policy:


When you’re in orbit, it’s a matter of returning the body, right? It’s just a question of the best way. Sure, you could take the boring route of putting the body in a capsule and flying it down to the surface for a proper funeral, but I would personally opt for the “human bottle rocket” approach. Send the body back down, sans capsule. Have a cremation and fireworks show all in one. But what if you’re halfway to Mars? Do you wrap up the body and prop it in the corner? Even in space capsules, bodies decay. Do you attach a tether and drag it along, hoping the jets don’t fry your pal? Or do you send it out an airlock and hope it doesn’t float alongside the craft all the way to Mars, hovering around the portholes and such? None of these options sound particularly attractive to me. At least if you are already on Mars you could go for a Martian burial. Personally, if I were an astronaut traveling to Mars and knew I might die, I wouldn’t mind being the first to be buried there. How cool is that? Beats being propped in the capsule all the way back to Earth.

Actually, there has been one death in space: Laika, the space dog. This was the first living organism launched into space, by the Soviet Union in 1957. Laika was one of three strays caught in Moscow and used for the early space program. According to this BBC report, Laika had only lived a few stressful hours in space, then remained in his “space coffin” until atmospheric re-entry less than a year later. The Soviets never intended on returning Laika back to earth.

This NASA report is supposed to address other “touchy” topics. What happens if you get seriously ill on the way to Mars and require more resources than available? Condemn the guy to death? Lets hope a couple medical personnel are included. Should astronauts be genetically screened to help insure such illnesses won’t happen? Echoes of GATTACA here.

My favorite part of the article cited above is that NASA still won’t touch the issue of sex in space. Isn’t it just like America to be afraid of sexuality? I don’t have a problem with astronauts doing the nasty. What else are healthy, young men and women on a multi-month trip going to do? I say let ‘em go at it, as long as they’re all free of diseases and use condoms. You wouldn’t want to go and get pregnant on such a trip, for sure! Gasp, does this mean the United States, home of the neo-conservative “abstinence education” Republican agenda, would endorse condom usage? Tell me it isn’t so, Bush! Reagon would roll in his grave. We’d better just castrate those astronauts now! If NASA forbids sex, who the hell would go? Do we really want our first astronauts to Mars to be prudes?


Rich Godwin said...

If we can't have sex, why bother going anyway?
Read the book

Rich Godwin said...

There are very serious consequences of biological reproduction in space; NASA is considering sending multi gendered crews to Mars for years at a time. What if a crew member becomes pregnant? Does NASA sanction an off world abortion, or even more serious, does the baby get born? If it is born off world, what are it’s chances of survival on the trip home? Could the foetus even develop properly in a different gravity regime? Could it survive living on Earth after the trip home?

Anonymous said...

I'm a few years late on this one but it's still interesting none the less. I guess one important point that was missed is that these people would be entirely dependent and responsible for each other on long missions such as that to Mars. Because of this, one obvious challenge for nasa would be to pick a crew that gels on deep professional and personal levels. It's no secret that sexual relationships come with a host of lovely complications in even healthy relationships, jealousy, concentration loss, vicious breakups etc. Do we really need that confusion & chaos aboard our expensive multi-billion dollar spaceships in deep space?