Remains Containment Considerations for Death in Low-Earth Orbit

Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2023 May 1;94(5):368-376. doi: 10.3357/AMHP.6146.2023.


BACKGROUND: Maintenance and disposition of decedent remains during spaceflight require the isolation of biohazardous products of decomposition in microgravity and in the absence of refrigeration. Containment and isolation options would preferably offer sufficient time to enable crew and ground support teams to determine appropriate disposition of remains and even potentially return remains to the Earth. The pilot study described herein undertook an effort to develop a postmortem containment unit for the isolation and maintenance of decedent remains in a microgravity environment.METHODS: Commercial off-the-shelf containment units were modified to meet the needs of a microgravity spaceflight environment and to offer the best likelihood of successful containment and management of remains. A subsequent evaluation of modified containment unit performance was undertaken utilizing human cadavers, with measurement and analysis of volatile off-gassing over time followed by impact testing of the units containing cadaverous remains in a simulated spaceflight vehicle seat.RESULTS: Modifications were implemented without significant negative design impact. Failure was observed in one modified unit after 9 d and attributed to improper filter application. The remaining unit successfully contained remains beyond the intended endpoint of the study.DISCUSSION: These pilot efforts offer important insight into the development of effective postmortem containment options for future spaceflight. Further study is needed to ensure repeatability of the findings and to further characterize the failure modes of the modified units evaluated, the impact of microgravity conditions, and the identification of additional modifications that would improve remains disposition.Houser T, Lindgren KN, Mazuchowski EL II, Barratt MR, Haines DC, Jayakody M, Blue RS, Bytheway JA, Stepaniak PC. Remains containment considerations for death in low-Earth orbit. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 2023; 94(5):368-376.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Space Flight*
  • Weightlessness Simulation
  • Weightlessness*