2015 was a good year for death. Without much hesitation writers and editors both agreed that death topics sold copy/generated clicks so the stories kept…
October 21, 2012
Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
John Troyer, TEDxBristol Talk (September 15, 2012)
On September 15, 2012 I was one of the TEDxBristol speakers. The TEDxBristol 2012 theme was Future Shock, so I took the opportunity to discuss three of my favorite topics: Future Death, Future Dead Bodies, and Future Cemeteries.
The entire TEDx event was organized exceptionally well, and I was impressed by all the speakers. I usually count on at least one speaker who completely blows it and becomes that guy (because it’s almost always one of the male speakers) so that I can be relieved that I wasn’t that guy. But no.
What really stands out for me from the day is the live drawing being done by artist Nat Al-Tahhan as each of us spoke. Nat drew images reflecting our talks, while we spoke, and she nailed the day down. I love the images. You can see them here.
I’m fairly certain that Death Ref readers can determine when I spoke, based only on the drawings.
The video of my talk is now up and you can watch it on YouTube here or above.
Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries John Troyer, TEDxBristol Talk (September 15, 2012) On September 15, 2012 I was one of the TEDxBristol speakers….
February 22, 2012
The Afterlife of Artificial Hips and Knees Clark Boyd and Rob Hugh-Jones PRI’s The World via BBC News (February 21, 2012) The metal used in…
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September 12, 2010
Death In Space
Mary Roach, Boing Boing (September 02, 2010)
Wherever living humans go, the possibility of dead human bodies follows. It is the fullest expression of mortality’s inherent fragility.
So, when humans finally travel into space for extended periods of time without the luxury of a quickish return to Earth, dead body contingencies need to be thought through.This is especially true for any eventual trips to Mars, which may or may not involve establishing colonies.
Here’s the rub: NASA does not appear to have plans on what to do if an astronaut dies during a mission. Or the plans, if they exist, are not available to the public. I came across some news articles on this apparent planning gap, and it appears that NASA planners haven’t really taken seriously the possibility of an astronaut’s death during an extended voyage or what to do with a dead body during a mission.
This is not a minor point. Returning the dead body and its remnants to next of kin is standard procedure for US governmental operations; NASA space missions are no different. Yet during long or arduous expeditions dead bodies are often left behind, if for any reason, bringing the corpse back is too difficult and/or actually endangers fellow team members. Climbers who die on Mt. Everest are routinely left behind where they fall, not out of malice but out of necessity.
Enter into all of this, then, Mary Roach. Many of you will know Roach from her books Stiff, Spook, and Boink. She has also just written a new book entitled Packing for Mars, on exploring the red planet. Earlier this month, she wrote a short piece for Boing Boing about death in space and what might be done with a dead body. Oddly, Mary Roach’s work has popped up in a few different places the last few weeks.
Here is the lead from Mary Roach’s essay for Boing Boing:
The U.S. has plans for a manned visit to Mars by the mid-2030s. The ESA and Russia have sketched out a similar joint mission, and it is claimed that China’s space program has the same objective. Apart from their destination, all these plans share something in common: extraordinary danger for the explorers. What happens if someone dies out there, months away from Earth?
Roach discusses a plan developed by the Swedish environmentalist/burial innovator Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and collaborator Peter Mäsak. Many readers of Stiff will remember Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and her innovation called Promession. In a nutshell, the proposed system would reduce the dead body’s size and volume, thereby making it simpler to transport back to Earth. The full proposal (which is being developed with NASA) should be read to fully glean how this system would work.
What Wiigh-Mäsak and NASA are proposing is fine…but leaving the body in space would still be simpler. Indeed, the main reason to keep a body on hand after death would be for a postmortem examination to determine the Cause of Death and to see if the other astronauts were at risk for some previously unknown pathogen. That said, if an autopsy is not possible because of weaker gravitational pull and/or after a successful postmortem exam takes place, then the body is best given a respectful burial in space. I would rather see NASA develop plans for final disposition in space than a spaceship’s crew trying to make room for a dead colleague.
Besides, I have a hunch that any person who dies in space will probably want to stay in the ether.
Per usual, science fiction has already offered up one example of what a proper burial in outer space could resemble (see the vid at top).
Death In Space Mary Roach, Boing Boing (September 02, 2010) Wherever living humans go, the possibility of dead human bodies follows. It is the fullest…
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