Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unprotected body in space

I am going to describe what would happen if a person went into space unprotected from the condition of ~the interstellar infinite~.  'What happens' has always intrigued me, and I think that learning about what it's actually like in space has made me more curious/flabbergasted/horrified about the entire place (sometimes I look around the bus and think "HOW are you not ALL THINKING ABOUT HOW BIG SPACE IS, RIGHT NOW. AND ALWAYS").

What space is like

Space is a much simpler environment than the Hollywood presentation. It does not glow in a blue, hazy light, dispersed throughout these gentle, ponderously drifting balls of rock. There are no deep synth soundscapes or any high-tech pinging noises. This an unimaginably massive, stark, completely and empty 'space' where once in a while a piece of rock the size of OUR PLANET hurtles by (utterly silently) at 50 million kilometres per hour fueled by billion-year old forces. 
What some people think space is like
What space is like 

What would happen

What you've seen on television and in movies is nothing like the actual thing. There is no boiling of blood, no instant freezing, and definitely no gasping last breaths. It would take almost 90 seconds for an exposed human to die, and you'd be conscious for the first 14-15 seconds. The fantastical effects of silver-screen space exposure do have roots in reality, though- if you were to make the mistake of trying to hold your breath, your mouth would snap open and your lungs would violently explode inwards, frantically trying to equalize with an infinite void. Your blood wouldn't boil, though the lack of pressure on your skin (that we usually have from gases in our atmosphere) would cause the liquid water in your system to form water vapor in your tissues and you'd swell up like a cartoon character pinioned on a bike pump. Similarly, because there is no medium for heat to travel through, space is actually an amazing insulator and keeps heat IN- astronauts have a much larger issue dealing with overheating than they do with protecting themselves from 'cold'. 

Space exposure isn't that dangerous, in small amounts- there was even an instance on a 1991 space flight where a small metal rod came loose from within an astronaut's suit, moved to his finger and punctured a small hole in his suit. His skin sealed the tear, and when he returned to the ship, all he noticed was a small red mark he attributed to chafing. NUTS, RIGHT?? Even if you were to punch a 1cmhole in an average-sized spacecraft (ie: volume of 10m3) would take almost 6 minutes to decompress to half-pressure.

Here's a a stunning video of what space actually looks like from space, for the 15 seconds you'd be conscious. The sad, sexy jazz soundtrack is a bit much, but the images are amazing.


  1. There are so many stars!

    And I don't know if I'll ever rid myself of the image of an astronaut's head shrinking and then popping when he removes his helmet in space...