Would a corpse decay in space?

24th September 2009

Asked by: Nicholas Zammit, Malta

In space we can assume that there would be no external organisms such as insects and fungi to break down the body, but we still carry plenty of bacteria with us. Left unchecked, these would rapidly multiply and cause putrefaction of a corpse on board the shuttle or the ISS. Drifting exposed in the vacuum of space itself, however, this process would rapidly slow to a halt.

The low pressure would initially boil off most of the water and what was left would freeze, halting any biological processes. Depending on the trajectory of the corpse, there might be some warming from the side facing the Sun, but all this would do is accelerate the rate of water loss, leaving only a dried husk.