This question assumes that in the future a sizeable colony of humans might be established on Mars, or elsewhere.

On Earth, one common way to deal with the dead is burial. This system relies on microbes consuming the soft tissues and thereby transferring nutrients back to Earth.

Life on Mars has not been discovered. So for now, it can be assumed there would be no natural way to decompose the bodies of deceased colonists. Sending the bodies to Earth would be expensive and would require procedures to ensure unpleasant conditions did not eventuate aboard the vessel taking the bodies to Earth. Cremation would use vital oxygen supplies. Burial would most likely result in corpses remaining as they are, either frozen or desiccated, similar to the Inca mummies found in Argentina in 1999. One idea I came across was to have the bodies composted and the nutrients used a fertilizer for plants.

Have any protocols been developed by anyone that addresses what would be done with deceased colonists?


1 Answer 1


I don't think we have a good general idea of properly dispose or treat garbage anywhere above LEO. Or further, we are not good at dealing with garbage in general, on or above earth, or we won't have a world wide garbage problem now.

That said, human body is a very challenging biohazardous waste so special care must be taken compared with other waste.

Burial isn't a terrible option IMO. The nuclear waste we bury on earth, toxic mining byproducts piled into mountains, dead satellites in GSO, aren't going anywhere in a thousand years either but somehow we've been OK with that. It does takes space but not an unacceptable amount. It's relatively safe and cheap as well.

More modern option would be alkaline hydrolysis which is much cheaper and energy efficient.

When human civilization evolves to that level I hope it will be social custom that remains of the deceased are recycled/salvaged and/or properly disposed of responsibly.

  • $\begingroup$ I've up voted because I think the answer is instructive about how disposal should be considered in the future in spaceflight contexts, and for the mention of alkaline hydrolysis (and It makes me want to ask if it was ever used on the Sopranos in Movies SE) but the question asks for Proposals being considered so answers should try to address that directly. Is it possible to add a link showing that besides you, just now, that demonstrate that alkaline hydrolysis or other processes are being considered? Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 1:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I'm not aware any of such proposals. But eventually there will be I believe. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 26, 2020 at 1:25

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