Space missions have always involved a very high risk, even Neil Armstrong and the other astronauts on Apollo were ready to die on the way to the moon.
A mission to Mars would require several months just to get there. Astronauts spend only six months at the International Space Station, where they are carefully examined. No one ever died there, and now NASA is being more focused on appropriate responses in relation to this risk.
In a recent StarTalk Radio episode, co-host Chuck Nice asked astronaut Mike Massimino whether NASA had some kind of protocol for bringing back an astronaut who dies in space. Although there is no specific ritual, the astronauts do practice extreme scenarios.
In his book, Guide for life on Earth an astronaut, Chris Hadfield explains an exercise named “death sim,” created to prepare astronauts to react in the event of the death of one of their colleagues. NASA already got plans for complex and long-term missions to Mars and private companies like SpaceX and Mars One plan to set up colonies on the red planet. Obviously, as stated before, the risks are huge.
Apparently, the simplest solution would be to release the body in space, but laws prohibit this. On the other hand, is not a good idea to keep the dead body on board, because the mental health of the crew would be endangered. NASA found an intermediate idea. Through a collaboration with Promessa, the Body Back idea was born. Body Back involves an airtight sleeping bag that a human corpse is zipped into and then exposed to the freezing temperatures of outer space to gradually disintegrate.
Death is a touchy subject, but for long-term spaceflight, it has to be treated as a cost issue and a practicality issue. The video above, poetically titled “If I die on Mars” shows that a suitable method of reacting to the death in space is yet to be found.