Screw the space toilet, I want to know about the 'death pill'!

If the astronauts all carry along with them a ‘death pill’, as has been alluded to in movies like Apollo 13 and such, then what’s it made of and what are the protocols for its use? I assume they can’t just up and say, ‘Well, this isn’t going so hot… I’m outta here!’

At what point would it be decided to pop the pill and who makes that call- the astronauts, or the ground controllers? What’s the assumed protocol in all this, do they all take it at once, or does someone stick around to make sure everyone took their meds? Do they shut the place down before they ‘go’, or do they leave it running for the science of it all?

Considering the amount of training the astronauts take in other matters mostly mundane, this one’s a biggie, but it’s never talked about.

How’s it all work? I want the gory, grity, real details!

I’m not convinced Nasa Astronauts actually carried a suicide pill. If they ever felt the best option was to make a speedy exit, it would probably be a matter of just flipping a few switches.

The story may be different for Cosmonauts. Alexei Leonov has stated he carried a suicide pill during an EVA (extra-vehicular activity), but only in the specific eventuality that his tether was severed and he drifted into space.

I remember hearing somewhere that space suits (on some mission or other) were equipped with explosive charges that could be detonated remotely by ground control, but I suspect that was bogus.

The suicide pill is completely mythical. There are no protocols for intentionally killing the astronauts in any NASA spacecraft. Although if an astronaut did want to commit suicide, all he’d have to do is open the cabin vent valve - he’d be sucking vacume in seconds.

All NASA launch vehicles (manned and unmanned) are equipped with remote destruct charges. This is to bring them down in the event that guidance fails during ascent to prevent the booster from flying out of the restricted launch area. Every manned NASA rocket prior to the Shuttle also had explosive bolts and an escape rocket to blow the cabin free of the booster first.

No pill? No pill!

There’s gotta be a pill.

What were the Apollo 13 astronauts going to do if they missed earth on their way back? Were the people back here on earth just going to watch as they slowly suffocated and froze to death? I doubt it. I mean, the whole thing was essentially a PR stunt, so they had to have a plan for a disaster like the one that almost happened.

They plan for everything else, why not a suicide checklist? ‘Running out of air? Check. No chance of getting back to earth? Check. Gonna die anyway? Check. Alright boys, plan B.’

I don’t think it’s that farfetched.

There’s no pill.

There’s no checklist for intentionally killing the astronauts.

If they did want to die quickly and painlessly, all they had to do was open the cabin vent valve. But there’s really no circumstances where they’d want to do that. The thinking is geared to bringing them back at any cost and not giving up if there’s even a tiny fraction of a chance to get them back. If there was a circumstance where recovery was impossible - an astronaut stranded in lunar orbit with a dead return motor, for example - the crew might opt to kill themselves, but nobody at NASA is going to order them to do so or give them a checklist on how to do it.

Nope, no pill. I read Jim Lovell’s book “Lost Moon” and he goes into the myth of the suicide pill. He claimed that if they were to kill themselves, they’d just blow the hatch. He does go into the gory details of that, but I don’t remember enough to say what they are. It isn’t slow suffocation though, I remember that. IIRC, they’d be dead in less than a second.

Cecil has commented upon the lethality of the hard vacuum of space and from what I’m reading such a demise would NOT be quick or painless. I wonder why NASA would rely upon something that cruel, considering the facts, to euthanize a doomed astronaut.
Here’s more information regarding surviving in hard vacuum.

I don’t know how Lovell would do it, but it seems the best way to suicide in a space capsule would be to turn off the oxygen and the CO[sub]2[/sub] scrubbers. Sure, you’d have a little time to think about things (which you wouldn’t if you blew the hatch), but you’d pretty much just drift off to sleep.

Still, astronauts just aren’t the type of people given to feeling hopeless, even if the situation is actually hopeless. They’d probably never use a suicide technique, even if one were provided.

Actually, the cabin vent isn’t put in place as a means of euthanasia. It’s to equalize the inside and outside pressure after the spacecraft has returned to earth, so the hatch can be opened safely and easily. There is no system specifically set up for killing the crew; it’s just that if you did want to die quickly, the cabin vent (while in space) would be the way to do it.

I wonder how he would take it, its not like he could open his mask and pop it in his mouth.

I suppose he would just have to keep it in his mouth the whole time, and try real hard not to swallow it…

– CH

Maybe their not, but the people around them are. How else do you explain the escape ropes and other procedures designed to save them in case of catastrophic failure on the ground?

Someone’s thinking about what would need to be done, and the idea that they’d resort to letting the astronauts figure it out themselves seems a bit short-sighted.

Couldn’t it be possible that the NASA folks simply planted some pills on the capsule and when the time came, and all other means had been exhausted, they’d then tell the astronauts about them?

I can’t imagine they thought about all the other scenarios and made attempts to resolve those, but dropped all talk of it once they reached orbit. People get paid big money to think of all the possibilities, and think of the ways to deal with the alternative scenarios.

That’s why I thought there was always this super secret ‘Alternative plan’.

Was the suicide pill ever actually mentioned in Apollo 13? Jodie Foster was given one in Conctact.

I don’t recall any mention of suicide pills in Apollo 13 - I think you’re thinking of Contact.

Point of clarification- It may or may not have been mentioned in the movie Apollo 13, I honestly don’t remember. But I do remember that with the release of the movie, and the ensuing media coverage of past and present astronauts and their missions, that there were in fact preparations made by NASA in the event that astronauts were somehow trapped in space. I distinctly remember it being a ‘death pill’.

In fact, I have this image in my head of a NASA technician type holding up a plastic envelope thingy containing ‘The Pill’. How and where I got that image, I don’t know, I just remember it as being quietly known and understood within the circles.

Quoth CnoteChris:

Apollo 13 again. The astronauts found everything that was on that vessel. Remember, they made an adaptor for the CO[sub]2[/sub] scrubber from leftover food bags, the cover of the mission logbook, and a bunch of duct tape. Probably, if they’d had suicide pills on board, they’d have figured out a way to use them, too, or at least considered the possibility.

Saltire said:

Now, I wasn’t actually…uhm…[sub]alive[/sub] when Apollo 13 took place, but I’ve read the book and seen the movie…

This is pretty much what actually happened, no? An oxygen tank in the CM exploded, thus reducing the amount of available oxygen in the CM by half. Crew moves into the LM, with enough oxygen for two men, for two days. They’re four days from home. The CO[sub]2[/sub] scrubbers in the LM get overloaded, so they have to build adapters so the ones in the CM fit in the LM. In other words, your situation was basically what happened on Apollo 13. If they’d have missed Earth, Lovell wouldn’t have had to do anything, it would’ve happened on its own.

Also, the book Apollo 13, written by Jim Lovell and Jeffery Kluger opens with this:

Somehow, this is inherently funny.

Not quite the death pill but… During the early EVA s aboard Gemini the crew was issued a very sharp pair of scissors to cut the astronauts umbilical if some disaster occurred and he could not get back into the spacecraft. It was understood if he could not get back in his partner had to cut him loose and return alone.