England: As space travel for recreational purposes is becoming a very real possibility, there could come a time when we are travelling to other planets for holidays, or perhaps even to live.
Commercial space company Blue Origin has already started sending paying customers on sub-orbital flights. And Elon Musk hopes to start a base on Mars with his firm SpaceX. This means we need to start thinking about what it will be like to live in space – but also what will happen if someone dies there.
After death here on Earth the human body progresses through a number of stages of decomposition. So, what about death in the final frontier? Well, the different gravity seen on other planets will certainly impact the livor mortis stage, and the lack of gravity while floating in space would mean that blood would not pool.
Inside a spacesuit, rigor mortis would still occur since it is the result of the cessation of bodily functions. And bacteria from the gut would still devour the soft tissues. But these bacteria need oxygen to function properly and so limited supplies of air would significantly slow down the process.
Microbes from the soil also help decomposition, and so any planetary environment that inhibits microbial action, such as extreme dryness, improves the chances of soft tissue preserving.
Decomposition in conditions so different from the Earth’s environment means that external factors would be more complicated, such as with the skeleton.