Report: Mortality Related to Human Spaceflight (NASA 2023)


Here are the key points on mortality related to human spaceflight from the NASA technical brief:

  • Crew fatalities during spaceflight could be caused by medical events, vehicle emergencies, insufficient resources, etc. Handling remains requires medical, psychological, ethical, religious, cultural, and legal considerations.
  • Immediate concerns would be protecting surviving crew from biohazards as remains decompose in the closed vehicle environment.
  • Pronouncement of death, death certificate filing, and determining cause of death present challenges. Forensic evidence may need collection.
  • Disposition of remains options include returning to Earth, long-term storage, burial on planetary surface, or jettison from vehicle. Considerations include planetary protection and orbital mechanics.
  • Psychological impacts on surviving crew who handle remains or perform procedures must be addressed, as well as impacts on families.
  • Legal jurisdiction over investigations and remains is complex, involving international treaties and agreements between countries. Autopsies would be done per agency agreements.
  • Environmental monitoring of gases released during decomposition is critical to crew health and safety. Proper storage inhibits decomposition.
  • Transportation and handling of remains must account for decomposition stage as well as various mission phases and environments.

In summary, comprehensive pre-mission planning is essential to address medical, psychological, cultural, religious, legal, and practical aspects related to potential crew mortality during spaceflight.

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