After reading the question Have any animals that have been studied onboard the ISS come back alive?, my first thought was this: what about the ones that don't live?

It would seem that this wouldn't be an uncommon occurrence at least at first - humans don't do very well in microgravity, and animals even more so.

Obviously, one wouldn't want deceased animals floating around the station. Are these unlucky critters sent back with normal trash, or in a different way?


2 Answers 2


All laboratory animals are sent and returned together, so far as I've ever heard. The animals are part of an experiment, and the experiment is not brought back piecemeal.

However, though the dead animals won't be 'floating around the station' I do wonder how the body is preserved before shipment down. Presumably, decomposition could be an issue.

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    $\begingroup$ Commander Chris Hadfield said that they treat human waste by exposing it to the vacuum of space before summarily disposing it. I think dead animals could also be temporarily exposed to the vacuum of space to kill all the bacteria and nullify decomposition. $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2014 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ @shortstheory: I would love to see an official comment on that. I hate speculating about these things, because I find that the engineers who design the ISS systems usually know about more issues and are a bit more clever than I! $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    Jan 6, 2014 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ Commander Hadfield speaks about waste disposal here: link I agree though, I have no info about how animals are actually taken care of in space! $\endgroup$ Jan 6, 2014 at 17:28

There are many freezers on the station for storing samples for experiments.

Things that need to be disposed of, such as garbage are placed into a visiting cargo craft (Progress, ATV, HTV, Cyngus) which burn up on reentry.

Things that need to be returned to earth intact are stored until there is a vehicle capable of returning it. Previously that was the Space Shuttle, which could returns many thousands of kilos of cargo.

Currently Soyuz can return on the order of 100 kilos of cargo.

Dragon is about the only real option, which can return about 5000 lbs of cargo.


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