Here's What Really Happens To Your Body If You Die In Space

In space, no one can hear you scream. Oooooh! Pretty scary, kids. Mental Floss defines "outer space" as "the universe beyond Earth's atmosphere and between planets and other stellar bodies," and reveals that sound travels via mechanical waves transmitted through one medium or another — liquid, solid, or gas, like normal Earth air, of which there is a notable lack in outer space. And while that outer space is a vacuum, it's not a perfect vacuum, so yes, sound can travel, "but not very effectively."

That lack of atmosphere provides all kinds of challenges to human beings who seek to travel about within outer space. Astronauts are heroic figures, scientists and athletes in their own right, accomplished in various fields of endeavor, as well as, let's face it, darned gutsy. In a quote attributed by Marketwatch to American astronaut John Glenn, preparing to lift off: "I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of 2 million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract."

There's always risk involved

There's a chance you won't come back. There's even a chance you won't actually make it to outer space — that's where most space travel fatalities take place. One incident that's an exception took the lives of three Soviet Union cosmonauts in 1971: as they left the Salyut 1 space station a vent valve accidentally opened, according to Ranker. If worse comes to worst, if it all goes south, and you're waaaaay up there in space, what specifically goes down?

Some of it depends on what causes the death. Talking to Popular Science, Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), pointed out the vulnerability of a spacewalk. A micro-meteorite could easily puncture the astronaut's suit, "and within a few seconds you're incapacitated," and dead from asphyxiation or decompression. The problem then becomes: What to do with the corpse? NASA has no good answer at this point: sort of "out of sight, out of mind."

It's kind of like freeze-drying

"NASA's response to any unplanned on-orbit situation will be determined in a real time collaborative process between the Flight Operations Directorate, Human Health and Performance Directorate, NASA leadership, and our International Partners."

A dead body in cramped quarters like the space station quickly becomes a bio-hazard. Storage space is always an issue. There's a sort of freeze-dry solution: suspend the body, in a bag, outside the ship, until "promession" (the term for disposal via freeze-drying) takes place The bag is shaken and the body is reduced to ash-like pieces. If you're a Mars colonist when you expire, you'll probably be cremated, to foil any unfriendly Earth bacteria you're carrying.

How about Captain Kirk's solution: eject the body into space, as suggested by another Mental Floss posting? Not so fast. The physics indicates that the bodies would follow the spacecraft's trajectory. If enough bodies were ejected, it would become a morbid funeral procession through the Final Frontier. And nobody wants that.