Friday, August 03, 2007

Surviving in Space Without a Spacesuit

According to a recent Slate explainer, you can do it. Not for long. At most, you can go about 15 seconds without a suit in the void of space, but you don’t want to test it out because you’ll probably die a pretty miserable death in the process.

Among other things, you’ve got all kinds of extreme temperatures to deal with (from 200 below to 200 above zero, Fahrenheit), ultraviolet rays stray meteorites, and of course, this whole business of a vacuum. No, vacuums are not good for people.

In a vacuum, I learned at Slate, not only is there no oxygen to breathe (that’s actually the least of your worries), but you have to worry about the horror of ebullism (no, not embolism, more on that later, right now we’re talking ebullism). What’s that? Glad you asked. I was wondering the same thing. It turns out that in a vacuum, “reduction in pressure causes the boiling point of bodily fluids to decrease below the body's normal temperature.”

In a 1965 accident, a NASA test subject was exposed to near-vacuum conditions without the benefit of a spacesuit. It took about 14 seconds for him to pass out. The last thing he remembers before losing consciousness is the saliva on his tongue boiling.

Oh, embolism. If you don’t expel all the air from your lungs before heading into space without a NASA-approved spacesuit, the air in your lungs will expand, burst your lungs for starters, and then send air bubbles into your blood vessels. That’s an embolism, yet another unpleasant consequence of floating through space without the right gear.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.