WootBot


quality posts: 14 Private Messages WootBot

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As NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to inch across the red planet’s dusty Gale Crater, America’s interest in space exploration inches upward as well. Jeopardy!’s Ken Jennings is a bit of space nerd himself, and this month he’ll be navigating us through an asteroid belt of misconceptions about the exploration of the cosmos. Even if you’re not one of the 6 percent of Americans who believes that the moon landing was a hoax, you might have been fleeced by one or more of these fallacies about the final frontier.

Space Myth #4: People Exposed to the Vacuum of Space Would Explode.

It’s not something most of us will probably ever have to face, but still we wonder: what would happen to an unprotected person in the vacuum of space? Knowing what happens to deep-sea divers in similar situations, you’d be forgiven for believing the sci-fi version of this scenario: the unfortunate space traveler swells up in agony like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall and eventually blows up like that poor guy in Outland.

Well, worry no longer. NASA says that primate experiments—and one accidental human trial in 1965 involving a vacuum test chamber and a leaky spacesuit!—confirm its scientists’ predictions on this point. You won’t explode. Your skin is sturdy enough to keep you together despite the pressure differential. Your ears might suffer a bit, you could sunburn, and your sweat and saliva will boil away, but you’ll probably avoid any permanent effects for thirty seconds or so…as long as you (counter-intuitively) remember not to hold your breath, which will mess up your lungs.

You’ll probably pass out from oxygen deprivation in about fifteen seconds, which means you’ll miss the nastier long-term effects (frostbite, swelling, asphyxiation). But NASA’s guess is that it would take a minute or two for space to kill you. In other words, the Total Recall/Outland model is incorrect and the 2001/Hitchhiker’s Guide version is closer to the truth: you’ll have 30 seconds or so to get back inside the spaceship the next time you’re menaced by HAL 9000 or a Vogon constructor fleet. I hope that helps you sleep easier tonight.

Quick Quiz: What space-phobic physician grumbled incorrectly in a 2009 film, “One tiny crack in the hull and our blood boils in thirteen seconds”?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

maxrfb


quality posts: 8 Private Messages maxrfb

I'm guessing Bones 2.0 is the quote there.

wow. I actually bought a Robot Elvis.
What was I thinking?

Dikaios


quality posts: 2 Private Messages Dikaios

The space phobic Physician was McCoy in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot.

Mogul345


quality posts: 4 Private Messages Mogul345

Sweet! This means that when Captain Archer ejected himself out into space to escape Cold Station 12 and was transported OK in with a bit of frostbite, it was legit!

Too bad Bones forgot about that a hundred years later. But, he's not the real Bones McCoy anyway.

Listen2Reason


quality posts: 4 Private Messages Listen2Reason

The whole point is that the difference in pressure is usually only one atmosphere. i.e., we know vacuum is 0 atmospheres, and we assume spaceships are at "normal" pressure or roughly 1 atmosphere (actually I don't know if that's true, but it's unlikely to be more, right?). So going from 1 to 0 is not too much.

However, in the Byford Dolphin incident, someone went from 9 atmospheres instantly down to 1 atmosphere...and did, literally, explode. You missed a chance to mention that!

mplockwood


quality posts: 0 Private Messages mplockwood

I've wondered about the frostbite. Technically, the vacuum of space is really, really cold. But what cools you down on Earth is the colder air or water or whatever you're in contact with stealing your heat. In space the only way to lose your heat energy is by infrared radiation, right? Eventually you'll freeze, but shouldn't space feel less cold than a winter day on Earth?

KaylaKaze


quality posts: 0 Private Messages KaylaKaze

If you had an oxygen mask and no other protection (like the Asari in Mass Effect), would you be able to survive significantly longer, or would breathing cause too much internal pressure?

ReidSimpson


quality posts: 0 Private Messages ReidSimpson

Well, any form of death is preferable to Vogon poetry...

FOTOGIRL73


quality posts: 0 Private Messages FOTOGIRL73

ah, if i had a choice of slow asyphyxiation or exploding, I think I would rather explode instantly or be sucked into a black hole and be torn apart immediately.

jcolag


quality posts: 8 Private Messages jcolag

Wouldn't a big part of what "saves" you be compression of your lungs? If your inter-organ nooks and crannies all are at one atmosphere and outside is zero-ish, it seems like the skin is the least of your worries, other than something like freezer burn. More likely, the soft bag that evolved to contain air would contain it, but from the inside.