NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ reveals how murder would look in space

Bloodstain pattern experiments were conducted in reduced gravity (Picture: Zack Kowalske / SWNS)

The ‘Vomit Comet’ helped reveal how a murder would look like in space.

A new CSI in space experiment has revealed how forensic science would apply in space by simulating blood splatters in microgravity.

With any luck, this will help the first space detectives.

Along with a real American CSI investigator doing a doctorate, the research team from Staffordshire University and the University of Hull set out to explore the unique challenges of bloodstain pattern analysis aboard a spacecraft.

Experiments were conducted aboard a Zero Gravity Corporation modified Boeing 727 parabolic aircraft.

Nicknamed the ‘Vomit Comet’ the adapted spacecraft has been boarded by big names, such as Stephen Hawking, Kate Upton and Martha Stewart.

Astronauts can feel how it’s like to be weightless on NASA’s Vomit Comet (Picture: Nasa/Space Frontiers/Getty)

For this experiment, a mixture of 40% glycerin and 60% food coloring was used to simulate the relative density and viscosity of human blood.

Blood droplets were then pushed out from a hydraulic syringe toward a target during periods of reduced gravity between 0.00 and 0.05g.

From these blood stains, the researchers reconstructed the angle of impact.

Zack Kowalske, a Crime Scene Investigator based in Atlanta, USA, led the study as part of his PhD research at Staffordshire University.

‘Studying bloodstain patterns can provide valuable reconstructive information about a crime or accident,’ he said.

‘However, little is known about how liquid blood behaves in an altered gravity environment. This is an area of ​​study that, while novel, has implications for forensic investigations in space.

‘Forensic science is more than just trying to solve crimes; it additionally has a role in accident reconstruction or failure analysis.

“With this concept, consider how various forensic disciplines could be used in a critical accident onboard a space station or shuttle.”

The study revealed that blood in space is more likely to stick to surfaces and that blood drops have shapes and sizes that would not be reflective on Earth.

Cropped Hand Of Forensic Scientist Examining Blood On Textile With Magnifying Glass At Laboratory
Forensic science expert examining traces of blood on a piece of cloth collected at a crime scene (Picture: Getty)

‘With the lack of gravitational influence, surface tension and cohesion of blood droplets are amplified,’ said co-author Professor Graham Williams, from the University of Hull.

‘What this means is that blood in space has a higher tendency to stick to surfaces until a greater force causes detachment.

‘Within the application of bloodstain formation, it means that blood drops exhibit a slower spread rate and, therefore, have shapes and sizes that would not be reflective on Earth.’

This is the first study relating to the behavior of blood in free flight, and the authors say that the need for reliable forensic science techniques will become increasingly important with fast evolving technology.

‘We find ourselves in a new era of forensic science; just as mid-19th century research asked the question of what a bloodstain meant in relation to cause,’ added Mr Kowalske.

‘We are once again at the beginning of new questions that tie in how new environments influence forensic science.

‘Astroforensics is a novel subdiscipline that is in its infancy. Broadening the understanding of all forensic sciences in non-terrestrial environments is critical as we expand into a space-faring species.

‘Research is needed, research that spans across all disciplines.’

The study is published in Forensic Science International: Reports.

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