Tough Ethical Questions for Mars Mission

By Deane Barker on May 1, 2007

NASA rethinking death in mission to Mars: There are some very sad questions you have to answer when you’re sending someone to Mars.

How do you get rid of the body of a dead astronaut on a three-year mission to Mars and back?

When should the plug be pulled on a critically ill astronaut who is using up precious oxygen and endangering the rest of the crew? Should NASA employ DNA testing to weed out astronauts who might get a disease on a long flight?

With NASA planning to land on Mars 30 years from now, and with the recent discovery of the most “Earth-like” planet ever seen outside the solar system, the space agency has begun to ponder some of the thorny practical and ethical questions posed by deep space exploration.

This reminds me of the “Lost in Space Scenarios” that The Smoking Gun posted a while back. They were scripts that the Nixon Administration was going to use if they couldn’t get an astronaut back from the moon. They went like this:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men […] know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

Sound far-fetched? Conspiracy theorists say that the Soviet Union actually abandoned some astronauts in space back in 1962:

The Torre Bert tower in Italy allegedly picked up a frantic set of messages relayed by the three occupants. “Conditions growing worse why don’t you answer? … we are going slower… the world will never know about us…”



  1. I have an issue that is very important that NOBODY thinking about. The problem I see as to a long trip to MARS by a crew in the chance that one of the women will end up pregnant. How will they handle the possible of a child being born in space. Since the trip could take a minimum of 6 years the child could be 5 years old when the spacecraft returns to Earth.

    How about the fact of the women just being pregnant. How do NASA handle prenatal care in space?

    If a child is born is space how do you education the child and provide any actives for a health growth?

  2. I don’t know if it’s the same incident – but Robert Heinlein describes a similar scenario in his Expanded Universe collection as an aside to one of his stories (and I see from looking at the Wiki article that it describes a different incident)

  3. Sexual conduct between astronauts is no one’s business as long as the mission is being accomplished.

    I disagree. Given the working conditions, something like this has the potential to harm the mission, and you wouldn’t find out the mission was in jeopardy until it was too late.

    NASA has every right and responsibility to regulate this. If you don’t like it, don’t become an astronaut.

  4. I would think that many female astronougts would be old enough to already have had the children they desired, not to mention menopause… Bith control has it’s place, this would be once of them. Those of you who don’t believe in birth control, don’t have to worry either. If you don’t believe in bith control, you probably don’t belive in sex outside of marriage either…. keep the married couple our of the mision.

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