The cause of the Soyuz rocket crash last month was given as being due to a clogged fuel line leading to a gas generator, thought to be human error rather than a design flaw. (NASASpaceflight.com articles: 31/8, 15/9.) Crew launches on the Soyuz rocket have been delayed a little, and the next Progress launch (Progress M-13M/45P) is set for 30 October. Crew launches are on the Soyuz-FG, which has a modifed fuel injection system on the engines of the first and second stages, but it and the Soyuz-U have the same 11S510-PVB Blok-I third stage.
China is to launch the first module of its planned space station next week on a Long-March Ⅱ-F carrier rocket (MSNBC/Spacedaily articles). The module is called Tiangong 1, or “Heavenly Palace”. The module is to be used to practice rendezvous and docking, initially with the unmanned Shenzhou-8 that will be subsequently launched. If it is successful, it will be followed by Tiangong 2 and 3 space labs in a few years.
New Scientist magazine had an article about the support operations for the Mars-500 mission in its 17 September issue. (Text online here.)
The July and August issues of BIS Spaceflight magazine have a 2-part article on death in space. I am debating whether to buy the issues as the magazine is now quite expensive in Australia ($17) and hard to find. On browsing through the July issue in a newsagent, the first part was more speculation about various medical issues that might occur during a long spaceflight. A bit disappointing as I was hoping for an actual list of procedures from NASA, or whoever! The somewhat morbid topic has interested me for years, but there are no actual documents online, only occasional speculations on forums. I actually wrote out my own version of such a document in the style of other online ISS documents as part of a somewhat irreverent short story I did some years ago (“Houston, we have a corpse”) that included a space autopsy (“2001: a space autopsy” – I had some fun making up those headings :-):
ISS Medical Procedures – DEATH
(ISS MED/3A – ALL/FIN)
This tends to be a fatal condition. No treatment is possible.
- Lack of respiration
- No discernible pulse
- No response to outside stimuli
- No brain activity detectable on EEC
- No difference between body temperature and ambient (algor mortis)
- Stiffened limbs (rigor mortis)
- Contact Surgeon as soon as possible so death can be certified.
- Gloves, Non-Sterile (P3-A2)
- 3-M Surgical Masks (CCPK)
- Body bag (CheCS)
- 2 bungee cords (or more as needed)
- Sleeping bag liner of decedent
Note: If cause of death is uncertain, an autopsy may be required. The procedure for this is outlined below.
- Don gloves and 3-M surgical masks.
- Secure decedent’s arms to torso by wrapping a bungee cord around the body; similarly secure legs.
- Insert body into sleeping bag liner (this will require at least 2 crewmembers). Then pull body bag over this and zip up.
- If a docked Progress supply craft is due to be undocked, store the body in this. It will burn up with the Progress upon atmospheric re-entry.
- A brief funeral service will be held as per the religious beliefs of the decedent.
- If the Progress is not scheduled to be undocked, an EVA will be performed ASAP taking the decedent outside and the body propelled towards Earth to burn up in the atmosphere.
- If the Space Shuttle is docked to the ISS it may be possible to take the decedent back to Earth, depending upon wishes of Surgeon and the family of the decedent.
- Contact Surgeon who will guide crew through procedure (only a brief outline is provided here). An autopsy will only be performed if there are no other options. Due to the biohazard risk, a full autopsy is not possible.
- Gloves, non-sterile (ALSP, CCPK)
- Autopsy medical tool kit (CHeCS)
- Rebreather gas mask (ГА panels 230,404)
- Bungee cords
- CPR Suction device (ALSP)
- Syringes (ALSP)
- Sony PDP 150P camcorder
- Antiseptic wipes
- Gauze pads
- Biosample containers
- Ziplock plastic bags (CCPK, ALSP-7, AMP P4-B7)
- The autopsy is to be held in either the Docking Compartment, Universal Docking Module or Docking and Stowing Module (depending upon stage of ISS construction) and will require at least 2 crewmembers, one of whom is to film the procedure. Ventilation fans to the docking module used are to be switched off so as not to convey contaminants to the rest of the Station, thus Russian rebreather gas masks will need to be donned to avoid suffocation. The masks have a service life of up to 140 minutes. (Refer to GCTC LSS ISS guide for usage instructions.) In DC-1, air ducting and the B3 fan may be disassembled to facilitate access.
- Secure deceased in module with bungee cords, after removing clothes from body.
- A digital thermometer is to be inserted into the rectum if time of death is uncertain. This can be ascertained by comparison of body temperature to ambient. Measure the body with measuring tape. Note any abnormalities of the external body surfaces; describe these either by talking into a voice recorder or making notes on a diagram and/or checklist.
Note: Due to the absence of gravity there is no liver mortis, settling of the blood.
- Make a deep Y-shaped incision from the front of each shoulder to the bottom of the breastbone, and then extend the tail of the Y to the pubic bone. Then peel the skin, muscle and soft tissues off the chest wall with a scalpel. Assisting crewmember/s may be required to hold the skin flaps out of the way, and to use the suction device and gauze pads to remove floating blood globules.
- Use the bone saw to separate the rib cage, performing two cuts up either side of the sternum so the chest plate can be lifted off. Cut open the pericardial sac surrounding the heart, then the pulmonary artery where it exits the heart. The prosector is then to stick their finger into the artery and feel for a thromboembolus (blood clot which may have lodged there and caused sudden death). Next, open the abdominal wall flaps to prepare for organ sample removal.
- Cut a sample from each organ – the heart, a lung, spleen, liver, kidneys, skeletal muscles – and place each one in a Ziplock bag. Use a syringe to draw a sample of the vitreous humor and spinal fluid. These specimens will be stored in the Destiny lab refrigerator or Kriogen until they can be returned to Earth for further examination, or analysis performed in the lab.
- If a brain sample is required, secure the head. Use a scalpel to cut from behind one ear, over the crown of the head to the other ear. Pull the front flap forward to expose the skull; similarly pull the back flap rearwards. Take the bone saw provided and cut around the equator of the cranium, being careful not to cut into the brain. Lift off the top half (calvarium) of the skull, then slice a segment of the cerebrum and place in biosample container.
- Sew up incisions made in head and torso, then place body in the body bag provided; it will either be buried in space or returned to Earth via Shuttle.
- If necessary, evacuate the airlock and vent any contaminants into space. After repressurization, use antiseptic wipes to thoroughly clean surfaces.
I’d be curious to know how accurate or not that is!
Longtime space writer Tim Furniss seems to have gone off the rails in recent years. Back in 2007 there was a memorable (or perhaps notorious) forum thread at CollectSPACE.com – “Another shuttle conspiracy book: A Life in Space”, and Francis French did a particularly noteworthy review of the book on page 5 (can’t link to the post directly). Tim Furniss is into crank conspiracy theories (mainly concerning the Challenger shuttle launch disaster) and Creationism – “The universe is not billions of years old. It is thousands of years old and the galaxies have not existed long enough for the their stars to fly off into space.” I wonder how he reconciles these with spaceflight – it rather undermines the authority of his publications on that topic.