Death in Space Ethical and Practical Concerns

How is Death Handled in Space?

“As you can imagine, it’s a thing that people aren’t really comfortable talking about,” said Dr. Richard Williams, NASA’s chief health and medical officer. “We’re trying to develop the ethical framework to equip commanders and mission managers to make some of those difficult decisions should they arrive in the future.”

People die naturally, they die from diseases, or they die from a disaster. Dying in space or on another planet will cover most of these areas as we eventually begin our space travels to and from Mars or the Moon, except for newly acquired diseases that may occur, unless we bring the disease to the new planet from on-board the ship. At least, a disease that originates from Earth, as it may be possible to obtain a disease in space as we do not yet know what is out space. We for sure do not know what may happen to the space traveler as they venture back and forth with the space frontier of our near future.

Early space history has lost 22 people due to some form of space disaster. Usually, a disaster can be a natural or man-made eventthey destroy something in the process, such as a life, property, livelihood, or an industry. And disasters like the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger are part of the 5% of space deaths and 2% of individual spaceflights, with the likelihood of more in the next century as our trips increase in number.

But what happens when death occurs while in space, several light years away from Earth? Obviously, NASA is wondering the same thing as they are beginning to address the death issues while preparing for the future Mars missions. Questions being asked refer to lack of oxygen and the call to be made for the ones alive or the one dying, taking up the precious life support for the others. NASA could very well weed out any astronaut whose DNA shows a disease in the background, but does that guarantee the astronaut will actually get the disease and will the benefits from that same person be jeopardized by excluding him because he “may” have a disease on the trip to Mars?

The issues that NASA are studying about regarding death, refers to a future choice requiring an immediate decision of an individual’s well being over mission success, due to the a risk of death or a chronic illness. Hospitals and clinic will be nowhere close, and the closest medical assistance being on-board will be a crew member who has to make this decision. Orbiting at the present time makes it possible to return to Earth within hours when a cosmonaut becomes ill or an astronaut becomes injured on the International Space Stations, as it is within 220 miles above Earth. But what about when we go further to Mars, and a quick trip back is literally impossible?