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What happens to your body when you die in space?

NASA isn’t sure what to do with corpses in space, but they may need to figure it out soon. Of the more than 550 people we’ve sent into the cosmos, just 21 have died—and only 3 actually above the boundary between Earth and space—since humankind first took to strapping ourselves to rockets. When there have…

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NASA isn’t sure what to do with corpses in space, but they may need to figure it out soon.

Of the more than 550 people we’ve sent into the cosmos, just 21 have died—and only 3 actually above the boundary between Earth and space—since humankind first took to strapping ourselves to rockets. When there have been fatalities, the entire crew has been lost, leaving no one to rescue. But as we move closer to a human mission to Mars, there’s a higher likelihood that individuals could be stranded or even perish—whether that’s on the way, while living in harsh environments, or at some other point of the mission.

**Correction: April 15, 2021
The video misstates the distance from Earth to the Moon. It is 250,000 miles, not 250 miles.**

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About Ask Us Anything
Popular Science answers your most outlandish, mind-burning questions—from what the universe is made of to why not everyone can touch their toes.

Media
Assignment: Outer Space (1960), Canadian Space Agency, Destination Earth (1956), European Space Agency, Galaxy Science Fiction, NASA/JPL, Prelinger Archives, Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, U.S. National Archives

Music
APM

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– [Narrator] On July 21st, 1969,

the Apollo 11 lunar landing crew.

– That’s one small step for man.

– [Narrator] Was due to
depart the moon’s surface

after a 22 hour visit.

– One giant leap for mankind.

– [Narrator] A speech had been prepared

for President Richard Nixon titled,

“In the Event of Moon Disaster,”

it read, “Fate has ordained that the men

who went to the moon to explore in peace

will stay on the moon to rest peace”

Said another way, marooned, stranded

because landing on the moon was one thing,

(gentle music)

getting off was something else entirely.

Would Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong

live out the rest of their days

staring at the blue glow of
Earth from 250,000 miles away?

And what if they did?

(gentle music)

Of the more than 550 people
we’ve sent into the cosmos,

just 21 have died

and only 3 actually above the boundary

between Earth and space

since humankind first took

to strapping ourselves to rockets.

When there have been fatalities,

the entire crew has been lost,

leaving no one to rescue.

But as we move closer to
a human mission to Mars,

there’s a higher likelihood

that individuals could be
stranded or even perish

whether that’s on the way,

while living in harsh environments,

or at some other point of the mission.

The International Space Station

is one place to look to as a model.

A death among that crew

would likely result from an
accident during a spacewalk.

Maybe suddenly you get
hit by a micrometeorite,

then there’s a hole in your suit.

Well, this hypothetical astronaut

would only have about 15 seconds

until they lost consciousness.

Before they froze, they
would most likely die

from asphyxiation or decompression.

10 seconds of exposure
to the vacuum of space

would force the water in their
skin and blood to vaporize,

while their body expanded
outward like a balloon.

Their lungs would collapse,

and after 30 seconds
they would be paralyzed

if they weren’t already dead.

A corpse in space presents
some major logistical problems.

The fact that a dead body is a biohazard

is definitely the biggest concern,

and finding the space to
store it in is a close second.

The crew of the ISS already stores trash

in the coldest spot on the station;

it keeps the bacteria away and
makes smell less of an issue.

For this reason, a dead astronaut
would likely be held here

or an airlock until a seat was available

on a return trip to Earth.

What if you’re millions
of miles from anywhere,

en route to Mars,

and storage of a deceased
astronaut isn’t an option?

In theory, you could
always jettison them out

on a forever path into the void, right?

One problem of physics though,

unless a mini rocket was
strapped to the body,

they would end up following the trajectory

of the spacecraft.

As the years went on and
the bodies accumulated,

that would make for a morbid trip.

But the risks of dying along the way

are nothing compared to
dying once you get there.

In promoting his own future
space settlement plans,

SpaceX’s Elon Musk has
openly cautioned that, quote,

“If you want to go to
Mars, prepare to die.”

Which begs the question,

if lives are lost on the Red Planet,

where do you put the bodies?

Could they just be buried there?

That makes sense because
of the long journey back,

but it poses potential
contamination problems.

Even the Mars rovers are required by law

not to bring Earth microbes
to their new planet.

Spacecraft are repeatedly
cleaned and sanitized

before launch to help prevent
potentially habitable locales

from being overtaken by
intrepid microorganisms.

But the bugs on a rover are nothing

compared to the bacteria
hitching a ride on a dead body.

So, if a Martian burial were to happen,

it would have to require cremation.

(gentle music)

NASA never officially
published a contingency plan

for the Apollo moon-walkers in 1969,

but they were prepared to lose the crew.

If things went sideways,

they planned to shut down communication

with the stranded astronauts

and issue them a formal burial at sea.

In reality, starvation
or, unfortunately, suicide

would have been the cause of death.

But even given that morbid
hypothetical turn of events,

everyone knew we would keep trying.

Quote, “Others will follow, and
surely find their way home.”

Nixon’s back-up speech read.

“Man’s search will not be denied.

But these men were the first,

and they will remain the
foremost in our hearts.”

As for future Mars missions,

climbing Mount Everest provides
the perfect Earthly analogy,

more than 200 bodies
lay across the mountain,

some of them still visible on
days when snow cover is light.

Everyone who climbs past is reminded

that they’re risking their lives.

Indeed, going to Mars is a risk.

But, that’s part of exploring space.

(gentle music)

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18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Brendan Hall

    April 13, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Not quite what happens when you loose air pressure in space. 🤦🏼

    • Bridget Connors

      April 14, 2021 at 10:21 pm

      As opposed to tight air pressure?

  2. Brendan Hall

    April 13, 2021 at 12:20 pm

    Not quite what happens when you l̶o̶o̶s̶e̶ lose air pressure in space. 🤦🏼

    • Brendan Hall

      April 15, 2021 at 2:56 am

      @Bridget Connors Haha thanks. We all make mistakes. Best to acknowledge them, learn and grow from them and keep going. Seeker has some wonderful material but it’s sad to see old myths and misconceptions permeate sci-com

    • Lurklen

      April 17, 2021 at 9:33 am

      Yeah, I thought it sounded a bit off. I remember reading a bunch of articles on how the whole “Filling up like a balloon” thing was an exaggeration (because your skin isn’t that elastic) and that it takes longer for the whole blood boiling thing to occur, though the things outside or exposed would start to do so more quickly (one astronaut reported feeling the saliva on his tongue begin to boil before passing out).

  3. Popular Science

    April 13, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    The article version of this video also includes a part about space cannibalism (obviously)

  4. Oldscool Gaming.

    April 14, 2021 at 11:18 am

    WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN! is there something your not telling me…. : o

  5. Sweet Tea

    April 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for sharing

  6. Tracy Webb

    April 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Thanks for sharing

  7. Sweet Tea

    April 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

    🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  8. Tracy Webb

    April 14, 2021 at 11:48 am

    🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

  9. Popular Science

    April 15, 2021 at 4:51 pm

    Correction: April 15, 2021
    The video misstates the distance from Earth to the Moon. It is 250,000 miles, not 250 miles. 🌎 🚀 🌔

    • Emory Draven

      April 27, 2021 at 8:32 am

      a trick : you can watch movies at Flixzone. I’ve been using them for watching lots of of movies these days.

    • Lucian Devin

      April 27, 2021 at 8:43 am

      @Emory Draven Yea, I’ve been using flixzone for since november myself 😀

  10. Alex Aslan

    April 30, 2021 at 6:59 pm

    The Everest analogy was was very appropriate. But organic contamination would appear to be a non-issue: exactly what microorganisms can survive in the environment presented by space or atmosphere-free planet?

  11. Haldos Prime

    May 19, 2021 at 5:15 am

    0:45 Michael Collins too. He gets so little acknowledgment.

    • senororlando2

      May 31, 2021 at 12:07 am

      Collins was in the ship, the other two were on the surface

  12. ERMAN KAZAR

    September 8, 2021 at 6:23 pm

    👍

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What Makes an ‘Ultra High Performance’ Tire? These 3 Things

What makes an ‘Ultra High Performance’ tire? Popular Science finds out by testing Continental’s new ExtremeContact DWS06 Plus. Video presented by Continental. ► LEARN MORE about how tires work in winter: ► SUBSCRIBE! to Popular Science on YouTube: #Continental #ExtremeContactDWS06Plus #highperformance #science #engineering #tire #ContinentalTire #howtireswork #cars #trucks #suv #gripperformance #trackingstability #traction #breaking #howtireswork #howstuffworks…

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What makes an ‘Ultra High Performance’ tire? Popular Science finds out by testing Continental’s new ExtremeContact DWS06 Plus.

Video presented by Continental.

► LEARN MORE about how tires work in winter:

► SUBSCRIBE! to Popular Science on YouTube:

#Continental #ExtremeContactDWS06Plus #highperformance #science #engineering #tire #ContinentalTire #howtireswork #cars #trucks #suv #gripperformance #trackingstability #traction #breaking #howtireswork #howstuffworks #Sponsored #ContinentalTire #wetroad #newtire #gripperformance #trackingstability #traction #breaking #steering #ultrahighperformance #allseasontires #optimumgrip #sportplustechnology #xsipes #forcevectoring #brakingdistance #tirerubber #performance #tiretechnology

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Get a grip: the science of how tires work in winter

What keeps the tire’s rubber on the road when the weather becomes most foul, the temperature drops, and rain turns to sleet and then snow? A good winter tire requires these three things. Video presented by Continental. ► LEARN MORE about how tires work in winter: ► SUBSCRIBE! to Popular Science on YouTube: #Continental #VikingContact7…

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What keeps the tire’s rubber on the road when the weather becomes most foul, the temperature drops, and rain turns to sleet and then snow? A good winter tire requires these three things.

Video presented by Continental.

► LEARN MORE about how tires work in winter:

► SUBSCRIBE! to Popular Science on YouTube:

#Continental #VikingContact7 #wintertire #science #engineering #tire #ContinentalTire #howtireswork #cars #trucks #suv #gripperformance #trackingstability #traction #breaking

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Popular Science

The TRUE STORY of Hitchcock’s The Birds | Science Stranger than Fiction || Wild Lives Ep. 2

LIKE, THIS REALLY HAPPENED. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic THE BIRDS is, in part, inspired by a very real phenomenon that occurred in Santa Cruz, California in 1961. One night, inexplicably, thousands of sooty shearwater birds lost their minds, dive-bombing into homes and even biting people. But, for 50 years, no one knew why… That is, until…

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LIKE, THIS REALLY HAPPENED. Alfred Hitchcock’s classic THE BIRDS is, in part, inspired by a very real phenomenon that occurred in Santa Cruz, California in 1961. One night, inexplicably, thousands of sooty shearwater birds lost their minds, dive-bombing into homes and even biting people. But, for 50 years, no one knew why… That is, until Dr. Sibel Bargu Ates connected dots throughout history through meticulous (and rather imaginative) archive specimen research. This is a Hitchcockian mystery wrapped in a scientific paper—a biological whodunnit.

Also, in this video: we uncover a horrifying first hand account of the true-life bird invasion (which overlaps in a way with another Hitchcock film, PSYCHO). And, learn how birds flock and move together. In fact, a 1986 computer program helped solve the puzzle of how they actually fly so close without every bird in a flock ricocheting off each other like pinballs.

Said another way, this is a story all about bird brains.

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► HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED about what makes an animal hibernate? PopSci formed an orchestra of hibernating animals to tell you about their winter’s sleep:

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In their own words. Well, approximately their own words—they are wild animals after all.

CREDITS
Video by: Tom McNamara
Animation: Beth Wexler
Narrator: Elizabeth Ollier
Executive Producer: Amy Schellenbaum
Editor-in-Chief: Corinne Iozzio

Media
1961 Santa Cruz Sentinel bird invasion photos (courtesy Covello & Covello Photography), Archival gut contents image (2012, Nature Geoscience), “Birds of America” (1917, The University Society), Boids program (1986, courtesy Craig Reynolds), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920, Paramount film), Dr. Sibel Bargu Ates, “Gull Island” and “Inishvickillane, Blasket Islands” footage (1942, 1925, Chicago Academy of Sciences), Internet Archives, Mixed zooplankton sample (2019, Adriana Zingone, Domenico D’Alelio, Maria Grazia Mazzocchi, Marina Montresor, Diana Sarno, LTER-MC team), Oral history by Edna Messini (courtesy Capitola Historical Museum, Frank Perry), Pond5, Prelinger Archives, Pseudo-Nitzschia specimen images (NOAA/NWFSC), Santa Cruz Sentinel, “The Birds” (1963, Universal Pictures), “The Vanishing Lady” (1896, Georges Méliès)

Music
APM, Vik Sharma

Thank You
Dr. Sibel Bargu Ates (Louisiana State University, College of the Coast & Environment, Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences), Shmuel Thaler (Staff Photographer, Santa Cruz Sentinel), Dr. Cheryl Baduini (Claremont), Frank Perry (Curator, Capitola Historical Museum), Georgia Chronopoulos (Covello & Covello Photography), Wyatt Young (Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Frank Gravier (Reference Librarian, Special Collections & Archives, McHenry Library, UC Santa Cruz), Erin Chapman, Josh Engel (Red Hill Birding), Jack Furtado

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– [Narrator] In the Santa Cruz Sentinel,

August the 18th, 1961, there is an account

of thousands of birds raining
down from the sky at 3:00 AM,

crushing into homes and cars in Capitola

and Pleasure Point, California,
just off Monterey Bay.

“Eight persons were reported bitten.”

This is the bird, ardenna
grisea, the sooty shearwater.

Also noted, the word of
the bird invasion spread

fast throughout the state.

And a phone call came to the Sentinel

from mystery thriller
producer Alfred Hitchcock

from Hollywood.

– [Producer] Roll five, Alfred Hitchcock.

– [Narrator] He requested
a copy of that day’s paper.

He was, after all, adapting a particular

1952 Daphne du Maurier
story into a screenplay

on the subject of killer birds.

Less than two years later,
Hitchcock’s The Birds premiered.

(spooky music)

There’s this too, prevailing
theories at the time supposed

the sooty shearwaters got lost in the fog,

that the flock of thousands was confused.

That theory made it into Hitchcock’s film.

– Hey, something like this
happened in Santa Cruz last year.

The town was just covered with seagulls.

– Will you please finish your drink.

– That’s right, sir, I recall it.

A large flock of seagulls
got lost in the fog

and headed into the town
where all the lights were.

– And they made some mess too,

smashing into buildings and everything.

– [Narrator] You might be asking yourself

what made them do this?

Because just look at
these sooty shearwaters

navigate the fog.

If flocking birds were easily
confused in low visibility,

shearwater invasions would
be as common as passing rain.

This all makes me think to
understand what happened,

first, you need to know
how a flock of birds,

like thousands of shearwaters,
fly and move together.

(spooky music)

Ancient Romans said the
gods guided flocking birds.

At the turn of the 20th century,

learned scientists considered

natural telepathy or a group soul.

So, magic.

After all, just look at
these starlings flying.

Unlike a flock of geese, where
there’s an obvious leader,

like this captain goose right here,

any bird in a flock cluster can move

in any direction and the
others will follow suit.

That’s because flocking
birds aren’t just aware

of their immediate neighbor.

Point of fact, they’re
focusing on the small group

of birds around them, up
to six or seven, like so.

Sort of like a rippling
effect of consciousness.

In 1986, programmer
Craig Reynolds made this,

a three-dimensional flocking model.

He called his flying creatures boids.

Three simple steering
behaviors guide them.

Input one: coherence.

Fly close to the other boids.

Input two: separation.

Don’t run into your flock mates.

Input three: alignment.

Match the speed and direction
of the boids around you.

This math basically plays out in nature

each time a flock takes flight.

Kind of fantastic, right?

Now consider if a fourth
input was introduced

to the flock of boids, a piece of malware

instead of a computational rule.

That’s what happened to
the sooty shearwaters.

(low-key digital music)

Edna Masini, proprietor of
the Venetian Court Motel

on the beach at Capitola in 1961,

wrote about the day the birds came.

– [Edna] Struggling to the door,

I was awed at the sight
of hundreds of birds,

all with the cry of a baby.

They were heavy with
sardines, unable to fly,

and lost in the dense fog,

as they came in from the
sea attracted by our lights.

They slammed against the building,

regurgitating fish blood,
and knocking themselves out.

Our manager phoned me, asked what to do.

She knew it was the end of the world.

Panic set in, sure it was German warfare.

– [Narrator] Heavy with sardines

and regurgitating fish blood
are two curious observations.

The sooty shearwaters
seemed more sick than lost.

30 years past until, in
the Santa Cruz Sentinel,

September 15th, 1991,
there is another account

of confused birds in Monterey Bay.

The bird, pelecanus
occidentalis, the brown pelican,

also some cormorants.

There was no hale of birds,
like the incident in ’61,

they simply washed ashore.

But the pelicans exhibited
similar symptoms.

This time scientists determined the cause,

domoic acid poisoning.

Domoic acid is a neurotoxin
that can be produced

by several species of
pseudo-nitzschia, a micro algae

that flourishes in nutrient-rich
warm water and low wind.

What happened is domoic acid
infiltrated the food chain,

making its way into
plankton, then anchovies,

then the Brown pelicans.

And when the neurotoxin passes

through the blood-brain
barrier in birds and mammals,

it can cause confusion, disorientation,

seizures, coma, even death.

So when domoic acid
incidents became more common

in the 2000s, more Brown
pelicans, more cormorants,

and even sea lions, dots,
of course, we’re connected.

Dr. Sibel Bargu Ates, a
biological oceanographer

and professor at Louisiana
State University,

along with a team of researchers thought

maybe the dots went as far back as 1961.

In 2011, they analyzed the gut contents

of archival zooplankton specimens,

sampled from the same
location and time period

as the sooty shearwater frenzy.

And, they were full of
pseudo-nitzschia fragments,

the micro algae that produces
the domoic acid toxin,

meaning the food chain was
more than likely contaminated.

So the sooty shearwaters
didn’t get lost in the fog.

They were poisoned.

The fact they flocked
together in the thousands

and all fed on krill or sardines tainted

by the toxic micro-algae is what made

that fateful night feel
like the end of the world,

because the birds collectively lost

their minds at the same time.

One question, naturally, remains.

Why did Hitchcock’s birds attack?

– What were the crows after at the school?

– What do you think they would after Miss?

– Daniels.

I think they were after the children.

– For what purpose?

– To kill them.

(spooky music)

(spooky music continues)

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