My sixth grade teacher was the stern but fair Mrs. Onizuka. She was the cousin of Elison Onizuka, notable Hawaiian and the first Asian American in space. Elison is best known, unfortunately, for being killed on launch in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986. Since most of us are too young to remember the Challenger disaster, I’ll remind you that it’s the space shuttle that lauched with the plucky laymen high school teacher Christa McAuliffe on board. She was the first “ordinary person” in space and was selected out of 11,000 applicants. Because of Christa’s presence on board there was hoards of national media attention. Plucky schoolchildren with interstellar dreams around the country were glued to the screen as—– the shuttle blew up before their eyes. An important US thanatos moment is there ever was one.
Then president Ronald Regan gave a really on point speech that night, directly addressing who he needed to be addressing:
“And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
Just try to watch that video without tearing up. Even if you need to forget that it’s Ronald Reagan talking. My mother will kill me for giving any credit whatsoever to Reagan, who she’s convinced had full scale Alzheimer’s before he even ran for office.
During sixth grade we had a big teaching unit on space. Mrs. Onizuka, being that she was Elison’s cousin, had taken home video on the day of the launch with the other families on the ground. I was convinced for years that she showed this video to our class. Yet the more I’m thinking about it as I write this, the more I can’t be sure my little 11 year old memory isn’t tricking me. Would Mrs. Onizuka really be allowed to show home movies of national disasters to sixth graders? It’s possible that she described it so vividly that I BELIEVE I saw this home video. Which is as good an example as any of the imaginative death mind of young children. In the home video in my head, I remember the space shuttle exploding and disintegrating a little after one minute into the flight. You can hear the crowd “oohhh” and “aaahh” because they were told to expect small explosions as the boosters and shuttle split apart. Those wonder noises morph into noises of pain and distress as they realize what is happening. Voices over the loudspeakers tell the families there is nothing wrong, so they won’t panic. Then the camera shuts off.
If you watched Reagan’s speech, notice that he throws in some sassy jabs like “we don’t HIDE our space program, we don’t KEEP secrets, that’s the way freedom is.” I’m not sure the dictionary definition of freedom is “not hiding your space program,” but this was clearly a nod to the ol’ Soviets. There is a theory that says the Soviets tried (and failed) several times to send men into space before the hunky Yuri Gagarin finally succeeded in becoming the first man in space in 1961. Or the first one to return alive, anyway. Since the Soviet government allegedly covered it up (in Soviet Russia, you kill space, space doesn’t kill you), these poor souls are known as the Phantom Cosmonauts. This has never been proven. But Reagan don’t need your proof, son!
So what of bartering lives for exploration? Here’s the thing about humans: there are so many of us. 7 billion. So what if a few consenting adults decide to take a one way trip to Mars? It’s not like sending a giant panda on a one way trip to Mars. There are like 1,500 of those.
But it must seem as if no one is going on a “suicide mission.” The illusion must be maintained that everyone comes back alive for America! (see: plot of Armageddon). If someone does die, apparently they’re working on ways to bring them back, if not totally intact.
It’s been reported that the Promessa people collaborated with NASA on a onboard corpse dealer-wither.
The dead crew member’s body would be placed in a container, called the Body Back, and moved into the airlock. Exposed to space, the body freezes in about an hour. A robotic arm then pulls the Body Back container out of the airlock, dangles it on a tether, and activates a vibration system. (The tether prevents vibration damage to the spacecraft’s instrumentation.) After 15 minutes of vibration, the frozen corpse is reduced to small pieces. Water is evaporated from the remains using microwaves, leaving about 25 kilograms of dry powder inside the Body Back. The container is left outside the spacecraft until it’s time to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, at which point the robotic arm pulls it back inside to keep it from burning up during reentry. The Body Back folds into a smaller shape that “will not unveil that there is a corpus inside.”
Well then. Here’s a sketch of a space funeral with Body Back present.
I’m on the fence about this. The concept is rad as hell, don’t get me wrong. Rad. as. hell. But one of the comments on this proposal really spoke to me, “Burial at sea worked at sea.”
It did. For thousands of years, if you were an explorer set upon the raging seas to discover new lands, and perished, into the sea you went. Just because we have the technology to have robot pod arms freeze dry space corpses, do we really need to do that? I’m sure the family would like the remains, but wouldn’t the dead person (presumably a space buff, as here they are dying in space) prefer to simply be released into the abyss to float about the place they love?
If you’re a little depressed at the idea of a one way trip into the aforementioned infinite abyss, please enjoy as the Quad City DJ’s perform the theme from Space Jam. This song is much more the cut than I remembered.