What would happen to our bodies if we died in space

Recreational space travel is an increasingly real possibility and there could come a day when we travel to other planets for vacation or to live.

Commercial space company Blue Origin has already started sending clients into space on suborbital flights, while Elon Musk hopes to establish a base on Mars with his firm SpaceX.

This means that we have to start thinking about what will it be like to live in space and also what would happen if someone dies there.

After dying here on Earth, the human body goes through a series of stages of decomposition. The process was described in a 1247 book by Song Ci, which was essentially the first forensic science manual.

First, the blood stops flowing and begins to pool as a result of gravity, a process known as livor mortis.

The body then cools down to algorithm mortis and then the muscles stiffen due to the uncontrolled accumulation of calcium in the muscle fibers: this is the state known as rigor mortis.

Subsequently, enzymes, a set of proteins that accelerate chemical reactions, make cell walls decompose releasing their content.

At the same time, the bacteria in our intestines escape and spread throughout the body. They then devour soft tissues: putrefaction and the gases they release cause the body to swell.

Rigor mortis passes while muscles are destroyed, they give off strong odors and soft tissues break down.

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The dry, desert conditions on Mars could cause the body’s soft tissues to dry out, and perhaps the windblown sediment would erode and damage the skeleton in a way similar to what we see here on Earth.

These decomposition processes are intrinsic factors, but there are also external factors that influence the decomposition process, such as temperature, the role of insects, burial, the way a body is disposed of, and the presence of fire or water.

Mummification or desiccation of the body occurs under dry conditions that can be hot or cold.

In humid environments without oxygen, adipocyra (a substance similar to organic wax) can occur, as water can cause the decomposition of fats through the hydrolysis process.

This wax-like coating can act as a barrier upon the skin to protect and preserve it.

But in most cases, the soft tissues eventually disappear and reveal the skeleton. These tough fabrics are much more resistant and can survive thousands of years.

A different decomposition process

But what about death outside our land borders?

The different gravity that other planets have would affect the livor mortis stage. The lack of gravity when floating in space it would prevent blood from pooling.

Inside a spacesuit, rigor mortis would still occur, as it is the end of bodily functions.

Gut bacteria would also eat soft tissue, but these bacteria need oxygen to function properly and therefore a limited supply of air would significantly slow down the process.

The first footprint on the Moon, Apollo 11 mission, July 1969.

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On the Moon, temperatures can vary from 120 ° C to -170 ° C. There the bodies could show signs of changes induced by heat or by freezing.

Soil microbes aid decomposition, so any planetary environment that inhibits microbial action, such as extreme drought, would improve the chances of soft tissue preservation.

Another form of skeletons

Decomposition in conditions so different from Earth would cause external factors to influence structures such as the skeleton differently and in a more complex way.

When we are alive, bone is a living material that comprises organic materials such as blood vessels and collagen, and also inorganic materials in a crystalline structure.

Normally, the organic component tends to decompose, so the skeletons that we see in museums are made up mostly of inorganic remains.

But in very acid soils, which we can find on other planets, the opposite can happen and the inorganic component would disappear leaving only the soft tissues.

On Earth, the decomposition of human remains is part of a balanced ecosystem where nutrients are recycled by living organisms, such as insects, microbes, and even plants.

The influence of the environment

Environments on other planets have not evolved to dispose of our bodies in the same efficient way. Insects and scavengers don’t exist there.

But the desert and dry conditions on Mars they could cause the soft tissues to dry out, and perhaps the windblown sediment would erode and damage the skeleton in a way similar to what we see here on Earth.

Temperature is also a key factor in decomposition.

On the Moon, for example, temperatures can range from 120 ° C to -170 ° C. There the bodies could show signs of heat-induced changes or by freezing.

But I think the remains likely still look human since the full decomposition process that we see here on Earth would not occur.

Our bodies would be “Aliens” in space and perhaps we should find a new form of funeral practice, one that does not involve the high energy consumption of cremation or excavation of graves in a harsh and inhospitable environment.

* Tim Thompson is Dean of Health and Life Sciences and Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University. This note originally appeared on The Conversation and is published here under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article here.

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