Mission to Mars Body Farm
With 100 individuals scheduled for a one-way trip to Mars, the idea of studying body decomposition and preservation of the body on reentry would be possible. An understanding of Mars atmosphere would be a valuable study planet; if bodies exposed to the environment were allowed to decompose outside of the earth-like artificial environment, a new body decomposition study could be conducted.
The atmosphere on Mars to Earth would be the first point of comparison. According to the Phoenix Mars Mission from the University of Arizona (Smith n.d.), Mars atmosphere is made of 95.32% Carbon dioxide, 2.7% Nitrogen, 1.6% Argon, .13% Oxygen, .03% Water vapor, and .01% Nitric oxide; compared to the Earth atmosphere that is made of 77% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 1% Argon, and .038% Carbon dioxide. The largest elements that could affect human decomposition would be the differences in the Carbon dioxide, Nitrogen, and Oxygen levels.
Human decomposition is aided by the destabilization of the human body; the living body is kept in balance with the live bacteria in the body. Once the body is dead, the bacteria growth is uninhibited, helping the decomposition process internally. Oxygen and insect activity aids in decomposition on the outside of the body (Vass 2001). The lack of insects and oxygen on an exposed body in Mars could show how external forces impact remains. In order to understand the rate of atmospheric effects on the body, a closed camera feed would be part of the study based on the camera used in the current Mars project. The Mast Cameras used currently on Mars have the ability to take video at 10 frames per second or color snapshots and can house thousands of images and hours of high-definition video (NASA n.d.) This camera is used to photograph and record land, rock, soil, and other environmental factors on Mars, and could easily be used to record stages of human decomposition in color images.
One of the more difficult challenges would be ethics: should the bodies be brought back to study or left on Mars? In this unprecedented situation, the ethical thing to do would be allow the individuals on the project to say beforehand how their body should be handled at the time of death. If individuals waive their rights, the next of kin should have the right to request the body from Mars or have the remains left on Mars. Should a request that the remains be brought back to earth made, the complication of reentry and the effects of the body would need further study. The best case would be to work on preservation or mummification in flight back to Earth, working in a controlled similar atmosphere and slowly alter the atmosphere to mimic Earth This would be an atmospheric stage bath, much like a staged water bath for fragile organic materials. In order to know how this works in a Mars-like atmosphere, it could be produced in a laboratory setting and human remains set up for a Body Decomposition Laboratory and Reentry study.
It might be years before the human decomposition study on Mars will be done, but with the 100 individuals set to leave in the coming years for Mars, it will be important to understand all stages of life included death on a foreign planet. With the ongoing technological advancements, it might even be possible to take samples for study at the different stages of decomposition. Time will be the biggest factor in determining how the advances in science, conservation, and outer space will play out.
Unknown author. (N.D) Mast Camera (Mastcam) http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/cameras/mastcam/
Smith, Peter H. (N.D.) The Phoenix Mission. University of Arizona. http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/mars111.php
Vass, Arpad A. 2001. “Beyond the grave-understanding human decomposition”. Microbiology Today. 28. 190-192.