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Sci-Fi Science

Surviving in Space Without a Spacesuit 481

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'll-just-wear-a-nice-sweater dept.
Geoffrey writes "The recent movie Sunshine features a scene (echoing the famous scene in 2001: a Space Odyssey) in which two astronauts have to cross from one ship to another without spacesuits. But, can you survive in space without a spacesuit? Morgan Smith, writing in Slate, asks whether this is realistic, and concludes: "Yes, for a very short time.""
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Surviving in Space Without a Spacesuit

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  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:03PM (#20143793) Homepage Journal
    In the episode where they were experimenting with a captured ship, T'lk and O'Neill were flung out to Jupiter and left without a way to get home.

    Carter's dad, herself and Daniel are able to rescue them but the two have to eject from their ship and float in space for a few seconds before the ring transport can be used.

    I do believe that the two had a spacesuit of some type on but not one that was designed for space. More of a general cover suit.
    • by ucblockhead (63650) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:10PM (#20143911) Homepage Journal
      Lots of SF shows have done it. Battlestar Galactica did it as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by d0rp (888607)
      Also in an episode of Battlestar Galactica where the Cheif and Cally were trapped in a cargohold and they had to blow open the door and catch them with a Raptor.
      • by Mr.Fork (633378) <edward.j.reddy@g m a i l.com> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:23PM (#20144125) Journal
        Didn't Chief and his wife (Cally?) have to go into hyperbaric chambers? I think that is the most accurate portrayal of recovery from space exposure. Didn't Outlander as well with Sean O'Connery deal with this too? I think the guy exploded from the inside out from rapid decompression - but I think that could of been a little Hollywoodish.

        I think that the injuries the dude form Event Horizon also were pretty real too - his eyes were damaged, frost, and the bubbling of gas from his blood "the bends".
        • by evanbd (210358) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:59PM (#20144619)
          Your lungs can't contain the pressure if you try to hold your breath. And you can do a good enough job trying to destroy your lungs. I don't think you'd exactly explode, though.
        • I think that the injuries the dude form Event Horizon also were pretty real too - his eyes were damaged, frost, and the bubbling of gas from his blood "the bends".

          You mean the scene where he's repeatedly screaming about how he can't breathe (while taking big gasping breathes) and we can hear him through the vacuum? Yeah, that's pretty realistic except that eye damage (especially like he suffered) and frostbite aren't normal symptoms of actual space exposure as the article states. Event Horizon's portrayal
        • by rev063 (591509) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:08PM (#20149461) Homepage

          I think the guy exploded from the inside out from rapid decompression - but I think that could of been a little Hollywoodish.
          I used to think of the human body exploding due to decompression being pure Hollywood, too, until I read this:

          Subsequent investigation by forensic pathologists determined that diver D4, being exposed to the highest pressure gradient, violently exploded due to the rapid and massive expansion of internal gases. All of his thoracic and abdominal organs, and even his thoracic spine were ejected, as were all of his limbs. Simultaneously, his remains were expelled with force through the narrow trunk opening left by the jammed chamber door, less than 60 centimeters (24 inches) in diameter. Fragments of his body were found scattered about the rig. One part was even found lying on the rig's derrick, 10 meters directly above the chambers.
          Now, this was a 6atm almost instantaneous decompression. Jumping into space would be at most a 1atm differential, so nothing like this is likely to happen. Gruesomely cool, though.
    • So did Farscape ... and if it happened on Farscape, well its 100% believable.
      • by cerelib (903469)
        So does that mean we can turn sperm whales into something like a cargo ship?
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by nschubach (922175)
          Only if they can materialize out of thin air and fall to their death at the planet's surface.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by OriginalArlen (726444)
      And let's not forget Event Horizon [imdb.com]. (Hey! I wish I could forget EH... my friend had Sam Neill's decapitated bonce, with realistic gory holes where he'd supposedly torn out his own eyes, on her (street-facing) windowsill for months after working on the effects at Cinesite in London (next door to the Private Eye offices, trivia fans!) I believe he was usually used as a stand for sunglasses during the daytime... but I like to think he freaked a few people out after dark :)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by WormholeFiend (674934)
      Alien also had that scene, except with the alien, not with a human.

      I wonder what would be the effect of space engines an unprotected human in vacuum trying to get inside...
    • by orzetto (545509) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:34PM (#20145175)

      And the best quote from that episode was seconds before that, when Carter asked whether it was possible to transport them directly from the inside of the fighter:

      Carter Dad, can you beam them up?

      Jacob/Selmak Who am I, Scotty?

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:04PM (#20143821)
    This has been dealt with [sff.net] many times before and there is even a case of a NASA tech who was exposed to vacuum in 1966. He lost consciousness in about 12-14 seconds and was regained consciousness without injury after they restored pressure at about 30 seconds.

    The conscensus seems to be consciousness for 10-15 seconds, no serious injury for 60 seconds to 2 minutes.

    • by Raul654 (453029) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:21PM (#20144087) Homepage
      After he came to, they asked the tech what the last thing he remembered was. He told them the last thing he remembered before blacking out was the saliva on his tongue boiling away (due to the extremely low pressure lowering the boiling point of the saliva)
    • by wsanders (114993) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:42PM (#20144357) Homepage
      A long time ago I took a pressure chamber ride at NASA to 27,000 ft. I lasted about 15 sec until uselessness (the crew master didn't let us go all the way to LOC), and 27,000 is not a particularly extreme altitude. Generally, 50,000 ft is considered the altitude at which the partial pressure of oxygen is no longer adequate to maintain consciousness. You can survive up to about 80,000 if you "pressure breathe", i.e have a rig that forces oxygen into your lungs at a lightly higher pressure than ambient, but not enough to bust your lungs.

      And as TFA pointed out you will embolize if you hold your breath above that more or less 80,000 ft altitude.

      So if the acronum YMMV ever applies, it's here.
    • by xenocide2 (231786) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:39PM (#20145249) Homepage
      Really, I'd say conciousness for 10-15 seconds, and risk of death approaching 100 percent at 2 minutes, based on the link. Remember, the 2-3 minutes guy was examined by autopsy.
  • next time (Score:5, Funny)

    by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:04PM (#20143825) Journal
    good thing to remember next time you're in space:

    Of course, on Earth, you could hold your breath for several minutes without passing out. But that's not going to help in a vacuum. In fact, attempting to hold your breath is a sure way to a quick death.

  • Spoilers by design? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rbanzai (596355) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:06PM (#20143845)
    Is it just me or does that Sunshine page prominently feature separate videos to show every single character dying? Is this some kind of gimmick?

    Usually I don't want to know how the movie ends until, you know... the end of the movie. //confused
  • Battlestar Galactica (Score:2, Informative)

    by Eddi3 (1046882)
    The Chief and his wife also survived in open space for about 5-10 seconds on Battlestar Galactica, Season 3, "A day in the life" [wikipedia.org].

    -Eddie
  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:08PM (#20143893)
    But the odds of being picked up by a passing space ship in that time are two to the power of 2079460347 to one against.
  • 2001 Movie. (Score:4, Informative)

    by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:09PM (#20143901)
    Well in 2001 Dave wasn't in open space. He put his ship right next to the hanger doors creating as much as an airtight seal he could then he opened the door and all the air left his ship and filled the hanger area giving some pressure for him so his head doesn't explode but the air was rapidly thinning because it wasn't completly air tight so he only had a couple of seconds to get in. He wasn't in openspace but a low pressure envrioment, with only a few seconds of useful time.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BRSQUIRRL (69271)
      He put his ship right next to the hanger doors creating as much as an airtight seal he could then he opened the door and all the air left his ship and filled the hanger area giving some pressure for him so his head doesn't explode but the air was rapidly thinning because it wasn't completly air tight so he only had a couple of seconds to get in.

      Sounds like someone needs to take a deep breath. I'm suffering from oxygen deprivation just reading that sentence. :)
  • by fred fleenblat (463628) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:11PM (#20143923) Homepage
    The decompression effects may be reduced/delayed if the space station uses a 100% oxygen atmosphere at a low pressure, then the pressure delta between what your body is equalized to and the vacuum is reduced so the trauma is delayed a bit.

    The ISS uses normal sea-level pressure, but I believe some of the spacecraft used for the moon shots used the low-pressure environment.
    • by evanbd (210358) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:23PM (#20144129)

      There's a bigger problem with that though -- if you lower the pressure of the atmosphere, but add more O2 to keep the partial pressure the same, you increase the fire hazard. Inert gases like nitrogen act as a buffer and reduce flammability. Fires in spacecraft are a big deal, which (I believe) is why ISS uses higher pressure.

      The major problem with exposure to vacuum isn't the pressure anyway, it's the lack of air. Furthermore, you can't hold your breath, because your lungs aren't strong enough to hold in the air. Without any air in your lungs, you get about 10-15 seconds of consciousness.

      • >> if you lower the pressure of the atmosphere, but add more O2 to
        >> keep the partial pressure the same, you increase the fire hazard.

        AS-204
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_1 [wikipedia.org]
    • by Solandri (704621) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:32PM (#20144231)

      but I believe some of the spacecraft used for the moon shots used the low-pressure environment.
      Correct. Apollo used a 100% oxygen atmosphere at a lower pressure (I think 3 psi, which approximates the partial pressure of oxygen in normal air at sea-level). When they tested Apollo 1 on the ground, they decided to use 100% oxygen. But because the test was at sea-level, it was 100% oxygen at sea-level pressure. 100% oxygen at 3 psi creates a fire which burns just like regular air at sea-level. 100% oxygen at sea-level pressure creates an inferno.
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:11PM (#20143927)
    The Space Activity Suit [wikipedia.org] is basically the same as jumping out of an airlock, but with pressure protection for your head only. As they say in the wikipedia article - "skin itself is actually quite airtight"

    There was at least one sci-fi story back years ago where this jumping out into space thing was done. So it is not a new plot line.

  • by weak* (1137369) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:14PM (#20143965)
    Maybe, but once they retrieve you, if your clothing needs to be removed for any reason (e.g. medical), you're going to have shrinkage like you just did the polar bear plunge... and all in front of your unreasonably hot female costar. :(
  • 15 seconds? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vigmeister (1112659) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:15PM (#20143973)
    I just expelled all the air out of my lungs as best as I could and it was exactly 24 seconds before it was physically impossible to hold my breath... I felt a weird kind of giddiness -almost a mild 'hit'. Sort of like when you smoke a strong cigar and inhale.

    Surely, astronauts ought to have better lung capacity than yours truly?

    Cheers!
    • by beavis88 (25983)
      It has nothing to do with lung capacity. From TFA:

      Of course, on Earth, you could hold your breath for several minutes without passing out. But that's not going to help in a vacuum. In fact, attempting to hold your breath is a sure way to a quick death. To make it for even a few seconds, Sunshine's Mace must have expelled the air from his lungs before he ventured into the starry void. If he hadn't, the vacuum would have caused that oxygen to expand and rupture his lung tissue, forcing fatal air bubbles into
    • by imsabbel (611519)
      You forget one thing:
      Expelling "all" air from you lung doesnt.

      But vacuum DOES.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LandKurt (901298)
      Not only does vacuum mean truly zero air in your lungs, but your lungs are now working in reverse and dumping all remaining oxygen in your bloodstream into the vacuum. In just five or ten seconds the blood supplied to your brain is completely devoid of oxygen. That's what gets you.
    • by Funkcikle (630170) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:40PM (#20145265)

      Surely, astronauts ought to have better lung capacity than yours truly?
      Try again whilst drunk.
  • by batquux (323697) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:19PM (#20144049)
    But with space being really big and all, the chances of being picked up within that time are 2^2,079,460,347 to one against.
  • the effect of zero pressure is your blood boils at subzero temperature.
    • by evanbd (210358)

      the effect of zero pressure is your blood boils at subzero temperature.

      A common myth. Your blood would boil if exposed to hard vacuum, just like any liquid. But your skin is quite strong enough to contain the pressure required to prevent that from happening. The problems with vacuum are related to the lack of air, and the fact that you can't hold your breath (your lungs aren't strong enough to contain the pressure).

  • ... by Geoffrey A. Landis [sff.net], "I first starting putting together this information as a list of references back in the late 80s, when I was a postdoc, and then posted much of it as a contribution to the sci.space FAQ (along with contributions from several others, most notably Henry Spencer). Then when the FAQ was offline for an extended period, but people kept asking the same questions, I put this page online as a web page to which I could refer questions. Since then a number of other sources of information hav
  • Saliva boils! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 192939495969798999 (58312) <.info. .at. .devinmoore.com.> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:52PM (#20144517) Homepage Journal
    From TFA:

    "One NASA test subject who survived a 1965 accident in which he was exposed to near-vacuum conditions felt the saliva on his tongue begin to boil before he lost consciousness after 14 seconds"

    sounds like after a few seconds in empty space, things get painful and gross!
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:52PM (#20144527)
    At most, an astronaut without a suit would last about 15 seconds before losing conciousness from lack of oxygen. (That's how long it would take the body to use up the oxygen left in the blood.)

    First piece of BS. No, your body doesn't use up the oxygen left in the blood in 15 seconds. In a vacuum (or, more broadly speaking, in any condition where the partial pressure of oxygen is lower in the lungs than in the blood), the gas exchange in the lungs is reversed - your blood will actually become deoxygenated while passing through your lungs. After 15 seconds, your brain will get hit by a blood supply that is pretty much completely deoxygenated - it's lights out then.

    And then the part about air embolism - the pressure difference from going from the inside of a spacecraft (which is most likely pressurized at less than one atmosphere) to a vacuum is much lower than the pressure difference experienced by a scuba diver surfacing from a depth of, say, just 12 meters. "Vacuum" might sound nasty, but it's the pressure difference that is the problem here.

  • Three magic words: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alsee (515537) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @01:55PM (#20144561) Homepage
    Explosive
    Evacuation
    Bowels.

    -
  • by Plutonite (999141) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @02:13PM (#20144849)
    ..hear your frozen dick fall off.

    [The author of this post understands the negligible effects of loss of heat solely through radiation in extremely short time periods, but encourages the reader to take a break and try to laugh].
  • been there (Score:5, Interesting)

    by starshining (998625) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:10PM (#20148597)
    I've done 4 spacewalks and during vacuum chamber training we open our suit purge valve, allowing the pressure in the suit to drop a bit (from nominal 4.3 psi) and I did feel the sensation of the saliva bubbling; it is similar to the sensation of soda pop on your tongue. I haven't seen the movies mentioned (other than 2001), but my guess about vacuum exposure is that you are more likely to be injured by the flying debris (including your own velocity as you impact a wall or whatever) associated with sudden decompression through a hatch than by a very short exposure to 0 psi. During one chamber run, I had a water line poppet valve stick open when I disconnected from the chamber wall. The water stream broke up into droplets that immediately froze, producing an impressive shower of ice particles. Over about 5 to 10 seconds, the icing point traveled up the water stream and formed a clump around the poppet valve, sealing the leak. Oh, by the way, I tried whistling while EVA and even the nominal suit pressure is too low to produce an audible sound.

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