In December 2022, something interesting awaits us – SpaceX will send a new group of space tourists into low Earth orbit. Unlike previous amateur astronauts, the crew of four will be able to go into outer space and see with their own eyes what was previously available only to professionals. It goes without saying that before going out into outer space, they will have to undergo a briefing, because in space there are many dangers waiting for them – for example, there is a possibility of colliding with fragments of old rockets. Of course, we must hope that everything goes well. But still the question arises: what will happen to a person if he dies in space? Will his body decompose over time, or will it float forever in outer space?
How does a body decompose on Earth?
After death, each person’s body goes through several stages of decomposition, after which only a skeleton remains. This phenomenon was described in detail in 1247 by the Chinese scientist Song Tzu – he is considered the author of the first handbook on forensic science.
First of all, after a cardiac arrest, blood stops flowing in the human body. Under the influence of gravity, blood clots accumulate in the body – this phenomenon is called livor mortis or simply “cadaveric spots”. After that, calcium begins to accumulate in the muscle fibers and the body becomes hard, which is called rigor mortis.
Further, proteins that accelerate the course of chemical reactions destroy the cell walls. Taking the opportunity, the bacteria living in our intestines come out and quickly spread throughout the body. They eat soft tissues and give off gases that cause the body to swell. As muscles and soft tissues are destroyed, rigor mortis disappears – the body becomes very soft.
In the event that the environmental conditions imply the presence of oxygen, plus temperature and at least some moisture, the skin and soft tissues completely disappear, leaving only the skeleton. But in the absence of air, the body decomposes in a completely different way.
How does a body decompose in space?
In space conditions, where there is no gravity and air, the human body decomposes in a completely different way. Fortunately, there have been no deaths in outer space, so scientists have only a rough idea of this phenomenon. The process will proceed differently , depending on whether the person is in a spacesuit or not.
A man without a spacesuit in space will not be affected by either internal or external heat sources, so he will quickly freeze through and through. How long the human body will be able to float in space without changes, scientists do not know exactly. If it does not collide with space debris or an asteroid, it will most likely be in space forever. However, there is a possibility that over time the body will still reach a planet and completely burn out in its atmosphere.
If, at the time of death, a person is dressed in a spacesuit, for some time the heating and life support system will probably work for him. In the presence of heat and oxygen sufficient for the life of bacteria, the process of decomposition will occur in much the same way as on Earth. Except, perhaps, for the appearance of cadaveric spots, because there is no gravitational force in space. But as soon as the suit is turned off, the human body will freeze in the same way as in the case of his absence. The only difference will be that the body, due to the presence of heat at the beginning, can still partly decompose.
When astronauts go into outer space, there is always the risk of breaking away from the ship or station and flying into infinite space. Of course, they are tied with a cable, but it can always break. In this case, the first thing a person will encounter is loneliness. According to scientists, before death, a person can suffer greatly from feelings of hopelessness and horror, and this can last for a whole week or even more. We talked about the severity of loneliness in space and how scientists are trying to protect future space travelers from it in our previous article.