NASA's Plan for What to Do if an Astronaut Loses It in Space

NASA via Getty Images
NASA via Getty Images / NASA via Getty Images

Admit it: There’s something a little bit unnerving about the prospect of floating around in a teeny, tiny container as you hurtle into the infinite abyss. But despite the extremely close quarters—and the isolation, and the darkness—involved in space travel, there are no records of astronauts behaving violently, either towards themselves or their fellow crew members, while on a mission. (That’s probably thanks to NASA’s intense psychological screening process.)

Should that streak ever come to an end, NASA has a plan in place. An admittedly low-tech one, but it’s something.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press back in 2007—that’s when, if you recall, Captain Lisa Nowak was arrested in Orlando, Florida, for attempted murder—if an astronaut has a psychotic break or behaves in a suicidal or homicidal manner, crew members are asked to carry out a three-part procedure. First, they're supposed to bind his or her wrists and ankles with duct tape. Next, they're instructed to use a bungee cable to tie him or her down. Finally, the instructions say to inject the individual with tranquilizers.

“Talk with the patient while you are restraining him,” the text advises. “Explain what you are doing, and that you are using a restraint to ensure he is safe.”

Once he or she has been subdued, the crew’s commander is expected to consult with ground control to determine whether or not the shuttle should turn around and head home—or, for an astronaut assigned to the International Space Station, if he or she should be sent back to Earth.

First aid kits at the International Space Station come equipped with tranquilizers, anti-depression, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic medications. (On flights to and from the ISS, which generally take less than two weeks, kits contain anti-psychotics, but not antidepressants, which generally take a few weeks to begin working.) Once at the space station, astronauts are required to speak with a psychologist back on Earth twice a month.

The reasoning is that any serious psychological issues—such as the kind that would cause an astronaut to act out in a life-threatening manner—would take longer than two weeks to develop.

But just in case, there’s a safety net in place. And it’s made of duct tape.