Death is inevitable. All things come to an end, as they say. And what comes from the earth, will always go back to its embrace. But what if, perchance, you were qualified to go on a voyage to one of the closest neighbors in our solar system — Mars? Say you had lived for a few solid months until by some accident or unknown disease you perished. The possibility of dying off planet Earth, light-years away from all the things you once knew, is a thought that might make you go crazy. But let’s scrap the psychological horror and face the question: “What really happens if you die on Mars?”
Your possible death on Mars
Let’s imagine a few circumstances where you’ll likely face eternal rest on the red planet. First up is a crash while attempting to land on the Martian surface. The planet’s atmosphere is 100 times less dense than that surrounding ours. This means that a heavy spacecraft will not be slowed down just by entry into the atmosphere. It may instead accelerate toward a dangerous impact.
What if the landing was successful? Great! But there are more dangers to face once the colonization project begins. Another obstacle that you will encounter when you inhabit the planet is the likelihood of turning into an ice sculpture due to the fluctuating temperature on Mars. As of now, spacesuits specifically designed for the Martian environment are non-existent. There’s no viable protection against the harsh, bitter cold you would encounter.
There’s also the problem of maintaining a sustainable food supply, since according to the analysis of researchers, carbon dioxide produced by the crew would be insufficient to keep crops alive. So death by starvation is on the list. There’s also the risk of oxygen toxicity or spontaneous explosions due to the build-up of oxygen in the closed environment needed to cultivate plants on Mars. And let’s not talk about how bad radiation is on the planet.
Aftermath of a Martian death
So your death on Mars can come from a crash landing, freezing, starvation, oxygen toxicity, an explosion, exposure to radiation, or other causes. What comes next? Let’s say all of the volunteers, including you, die. No one is there to bury the remains. Your bodies are all exposed in a bright martian day and dark martian night waiting to rot. Problem is, the corpses will stay there for eons unless Mars has a biology for decomposing bodies.
But don’t worry. The bacteria inside the human body can start to do the work, at least for a few hours during the day. However, when night comes, they will freeze along with the body. Even the warmest nights on Mars are as cold as the polar regions on Earth due to the absence of an insulating atmosphere. So the slow, dry process of mummification would start. But that won’t go smoothly either because of the ionizing radiation that bathes the planet. This radiation will slowly wear the bodies away, a process that will take millions of years until every last trace is wiped clean.
But let’s say your crew survived you. Your body has a better chance of getting preserved if they decide to honor you through a burial. But probably they will cremate you. Mars One colonists have chosen cremation as a way of disposing of dead bodies. Oxygen and fuel to manufacture or extract on the planet are the only components needed to make this happen. Turning your body into fertilizer is also possible, but only upon approval, since the ethics of the idea are rather questionable.
The trip to Mars and its colonization is at hand. Mars colonists will be on their way to the red planet by 2023. NASA has slated a project to colonize Mars in the 2030s. And other private spaceflight companies are jockeying to build colonies on the red planet as well.
The chance to be one of the first settlers on our neighboring planet might be overwhelmingly exciting, but the difficulties and challenges that the first humans will likely face there are just as overwhelming. Truth is, the preparation for such an ambitious project is still inadequate. Still, with the help of researchers, scientists, engineers, and other people working hard to advance our technology for interplanetary projects, the likelihood of successful colonization on Mars is possible.