I can say with fair confidence that if an astronaut died on a short mission to the moon, the craft would turn around and come back. But it gets thornier if the astronauts are on Mars, or even halfway there—any place where turning back would be inadvisable or even impossible.
There are really only two options for the body: Leave it there or bring it home.
My guess is that NASA would make every effort to bring the body home. Returning the body would most likely be incredibly important for the other crewmembers, who would have formed an extremely strong bond with one another during the three-year mission (and although the astronauts chosen for this mission would have such a demeanor that they would be less likely to freak out about sharing the ride home with a dead body, they may need to undergo grief counseling en route). In addition, when a person dies, his or her body becomes the property of the next of kin, who would have the legal right to ask to have the body returned. NASA would certainly take such a request into consideration.
The cause of death could be a huge factor in the decision. If the astronaut died from falling into a canyon, retrieving the body could put other crewmembers at risk. There's also the extremely remote chance that the astronaut's suit could suffer a breach and he or she could become infected with a deadly organism that could endanger the rest of the crew—and Earth. There is no evidence that any such organism (or any organism at all) exists on Mars, but there still needs to be a plan in place for this scenario. Without a way to contain its spread, we'd have to leave the body behind. But this in turn raises concerns about contaminating Mars.
Paul Root Wolpe is a psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a bioethics adviser for NASA. His opinions on future scenarios are not the official stance of the space agency.
I enjoyed popsci.com blogs (as a separate entity from articles), but find it frustrating that the main page is now flooded with them. I click on interesting headlines expecting the detailed, informative articles that exclusively occupied the main page until recently and am often disappointed. I hope you bring the distinction between articles and blogs back, or make it clear how I can find the articles!
1. Context is important. Human explorers have nearly always left the bodies of their peers where they died.
2. The best analogy to exploring in space are sailors. They were out for months and even years till they returned home. Burial at Sea may very well be adapted to "the space equivalent". With limited room and resources a thin fabric could wrap the body as the Egyptians did, or cremation if possible. Many naval veterans (and veteran's in general) even today choose to be "buried" at sea, although it is very rare that they aren't cremated rather than disposing of the whole body.
3. The human grieving process seeks closure and it is healthy to do so. Therefore we soon after death have funerals for the following reasons: a. It impresses in no uncertain terms that the person is dead because the whole community experiences it. This helps support family members who have difficulty embracing the finality of death. Other cultures that believe in re-incarnation (for example) there is a definitive time, usually less than a year for mourning.
b. "a" is universal to my knowledge. Christians celebrate the concept of Resurrection and look forward to the promise of the Resurrection even in the midst of pain and grief. The point is that for those who believe, even the sure hope of meeting your loved one again does not delay the service or mourning. Even with the hope of the Resurrection, the universal human response to grief and loss doesn't change.
c. Families back home prepare for mourning prior to the mission because exploration is risky. It is unlikely as well that they would delay closure until the "body" gets home.
It is far more likely, that the crewmember regardless of "faith and or beliefs" will be "shot" into space not unlike a "burial at sea" or if on a planetary body, perhaps burial. To understand human beings follow the current strands of belief, agnosticism, or atheism, and behavior to the new context of space.
LCDR Dean Johansen
Navy Chaplain Corp
Short and sweet...
I lay where I die, spread my cells like seeds of information. I may not exist now. - The best guess is a Theory.
I bet you if some one dies on mars and they are not infected with something then i think that NASA will simply depose of the body in space where it could be retrieved in Mars orbit on a return trip see you have to remember that space and fuel is to valuable to have a body on board any longer that a few hours and decomposition also has to be a factor as well.
very well put drj. i personally think they should either launch the body into space with a final impact on the sun, or else bury the body if they are on the surface. like you said, ancient explorers here on earh did not drag the inert body of a fallen comrade back to wherever they put to sea. no they would bury it where they died. or at least as close as possible(taking into consideration rocky areas and such). it was just too much trouble and wasted energy(which is even more important in space travel) to drag an inert body across wilderness and the ocean so they could have a "proper burial".