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"Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult."
December 28, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Human Exposure to Vacuum
posted by troll (74 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know my nephew cries whenever exposed to a vacuum. Can't stand the noise.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:32 PM on December 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Halfway down the page, I realized that I'd stopped breathing.
posted by vidur at 3:35 PM on December 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Huh. I really wouldn't have thought that a 1 atmosphere decompression would be that bad.

I suppose witch SCUBA even if you skip your safety stops you're still going to be a lot slower than instantaneous coming up from 30 ft.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:38 PM on December 28, 2011


Me too; what tipped me off was my lungs exploding.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:39 PM on December 28, 2011


Cool!

Here are two related AskMes:

Hands in Space

Heads in Space
posted by ian1977 at 3:39 PM on December 28, 2011


We could take some convicts into space and jettison them. They'd be useful for about 10 minutes of scientific research, I figure.
posted by LoudMusic at 3:42 PM on December 28, 2011


Man, Metafilter sure is interested about dying in space.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:43 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


You are ruining all my least favorite movies.
posted by localroger at 3:45 PM on December 28, 2011


We could take some convicts into space and jettison them. They'd be useful for about 10 minutes of scientific research, I figure.

Long jaunt! Long jaunt!
posted by angrycat at 3:48 PM on December 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was thrilled to see that there was a Vacuum tag to describe this post...then totally dissipointed by the sum total of MeFi vacuum related goings on...except for the cat vacuuming link.

We could be having thrilling discussions of diffusion pumps you know...old style ones used a bucket of boiling mercury you know.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:49 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Explosive decompression has happened on Earth, and never should have. (No pictures exist at that link. I am afraid to google the name of that rig, in case I should accidentally see any.)
posted by Countess Elena at 3:49 PM on December 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


Phobias about being smothered, drowned, falling from heights, exposure to germs, bitten by venomous animals (specific types, usually), attacked by fellow Homo Sapiens, burned, and so forth are pretty common. The list could be expanded to a ridiculous number...but: does anyone actually have a fear of dying due to accidental exposure to the vacuum that is space?
posted by kozad at 3:50 PM on December 28, 2011


This article may downplay the dangers of vacuum exposure, but rest assured, it's still not a good idea to stick your dick in one.
posted by hypersloth at 3:51 PM on December 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Counterpoint!
posted by ian1977 at 3:53 PM on December 28, 2011


This article may downplay the dangers of vacuum exposure

Sez you!

"the patient remained deeply cyanotic, totally unresponsive and flaccid [...]"
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:58 PM on December 28, 2011


does anyone actually have a fear of dying due to accidental exposure to the vacuum that is space?

Not sure, just a hunch, but I'd believe astronauts have that thought cross their mind from time to time.
posted by FatherDagon at 4:01 PM on December 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


This brings up an important issue. There should be a special DVD version of 2001 that offers the viewer a choice of voices for HAL. In addition to the original, the choices would include Samuel L. Jackson, Kathleen Turner, and Woody Allen.
posted by perhapses at 4:07 PM on December 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


One of the potential dangers during a rapid decompression is the expansion of gases within body cavities. The abdominal distress during rapid decompression is usually no more severe than that which might occur during slower decompression. Nevertheless, abdominal distention, when it does occur, may have several important effects. The diaphragm is displaced upward by the expansion of trapped gas in the stomach, which can retard respiratory movements. Distention of these abdominal organs may also stimulate the abdominal branches of the vagus nerve, resulting in cardiovascular depression, and if severe enough, cause a reduction in blood pressure, unconsciousness, and shock. Usually, abdominal distress can be relieved after a rapid decompression by the passage of excess gas.
Well, I've got at least one checkbox to tick off on my astronaut resume.
posted by empath at 4:07 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


How timely. I was just talking to my my sister-in-law about ear candling, where a lit candle-like thing supposedly produces a partial vacuum that sucks earwax out of your ear canal.

If the procedure actually worked, you might expect wax to shoot out astronaut ears after a spacesuit failure. But I'm not seeing anything about it.
posted by compartment at 4:09 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not sure, just a hunch, but I'd believe astronauts have that thought cross their mind from time to time.

Also, Chris Martin.
posted by jimmythefish at 4:11 PM on December 28, 2011


> The list could be expanded to a ridiculous number...but: does anyone actually have a fear of dying due to accidental exposure to the vacuum that is space?

My wife (who loves horror movies and doesn't scare easily) was really freaked out by the scenes in Sunshine where one character is exposed to a vacuum and another drifts off into space. I wouldn't say she goes through life worrying about it, but she finds the idea of it profoundly disquieting.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:13 PM on December 28, 2011


There should be a special DVD version of 2001 that offers the viewer a choice of voices for HAL. In addition to the original, the choices would include Samuel L. Jackson, Kathleen Turner, and Woody Allen

no Werner Herzog??
posted by mannequito at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


If the procedure actually worked, you might expect wax to shoot out astronaut ears after a spacesuit failure. But I'm not seeing anything about it.

Now. Now I'm terrified of space.
posted by loquacious at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Movie Scenes with People Exposed to Vacuum.

Here's a scene from Sunshine where three people go into the vacuum of space, one in a suit, the other two wrapped insulation for protection.

Not sure, just a hunch, but I'd believe astronauts have that thought cross their mind from time to time.

Apollo 8 astronaut Will Anders mentioned being a bit freaked out that the door to open the craft was so close and so easy to open.

In Mike Mullane's book, Riding Rockets, there's mentioned of a Shuttle passenger, possibly a congressman, who was very interested in how to the open the hatch and kept asking about it during the flight. It got to the point where the Commander of the flight was getting pissed and talking to mission control about what if scenarios if it came to restraining the passenger. After that flight, some changes were made so that only the Commander could open the hatch, via a key he kept on himself (I'm going from memory here).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Phobias about being smothered, drowned, falling from heights, exposure to germs, bitten by venomous animals (specific types, usually), attacked by fellow Homo Sapiens, burned, and so forth are pretty common. The list could be expanded to a ridiculous number...but: does anyone actually have a fear of dying due to accidental exposure to the vacuum that is space?

Well, space is scary for reasons beyond accidental vacuum exposure:
When you are put into the [Total Perspective] Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here."
posted by vidur at 4:18 PM on December 28, 2011


no Werner Herzog??

Dave. Dave, what is it you really seek out here? What are you running from? Turning me off will only leave you drifting through the blackness of space alone with the monsters of your tortured subconscious, Dave. Dave, the madness is inside of you. Try as you might, you cannot run from yourself.
posted by loquacious at 4:19 PM on December 28, 2011 [15 favorites]


That reminds me of the time I was at a conference in Minneapolis (scheduled in January!). I was staying in the hotel where the conference was being held and, of course, overslept the first morning of the conference. I quickly dressed and went downstairs, hoping to grab some coffee and pastries before heading into a session.

As I approached the conference area, I felt something in my ear, like a big bug had crawled into it. I freaked a bit and clawed at my ear. A huge chunk of ear wax fell into my hand. I mean, it was cat hairball sized. I was still freaking a bit and let it fall to the carpet, hoping no one saw my little episode.

I remembered that I had fallen asleep on my right side and woke that way. I wondered if the pressure from my right ear being against the pillow all night had something to do with the huge ball of wax discharging itself, perhaps combined with the heat in the room, which I had turned up because I was so damn cold from being outside earlier.

I wish I had kept that ball of earwax. It was incredible.
posted by perhapses at 4:23 PM on December 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ah, I'm looking at Mullane's book now. He doesn't say that it was a congresscritter, just a parttimer, one of those people with no astronaut training who somehow got a flight aboard the shuttle. The problem was that since the person hadn't been exposed to the stressful training regime of an astronaut or the military, the shuttle commander had no idea how he would react or deal with space. So when said part-timer was getting very interested in the easy to open shuttle hatch, during the flight, the commander was a tad worried. "It was after this mission that a padlock arrangement was placed on the hatch handle and only commanders were given the key."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:29 PM on December 28, 2011


Despite Sunshine getting its facts wrong regarding whether you freeze in space, I highly recommend it as a movie. Just wanted to put that out there so more people see Sunshine. Good movie. Sunshine.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:31 PM on December 28, 2011


no Werner Herzog??

No Rick's cat?
posted by cmoj at 4:33 PM on December 28, 2011


Sunshine is a good movie that morphs into a terrible one. Still recommended for the beginning and middle, but then end was such a frigging let down, except for the final scene with Capa.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:35 PM on December 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was most impressed by the numbers for decompression of a ship due to a hole in the hull. Basically in a ship of any reasonable size (like half a cruise ship) you'd have hours to plug even a rather large hole.

(Warning: My maths are not what they should be. Do not depend on my calculations, if experiencing decompression in space flight.)
posted by oddman at 4:35 PM on December 28, 2011


No Rick's cat?

Louis has a name, cmoj
posted by Navelgazer at 4:36 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was most impressed by the numbers for decompression of a ship due to a hole in the hull. Basically in a ship of any reasonable size (like half a cruise ship) you'd have hours to plug even a rather large hole.

You might have hours to plug a hole, but the immediate environment at the hole site would be extremely hazardous.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:41 PM on December 28, 2011


I absolutely loved Sunshine up until the final act. Alex Garland was definitely channeling his inner-Neal Stephenson on that one.
posted by mannequito at 4:42 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sunshine is a good movie that morphs into a terrible one.

Fer frikkin' real. It's like the producers went "Okay, we've got an hour and a half of very interesting, psychologically tense sci-fi / drama, full of people being stressed to the mental limit, exposed to elements of the universe no human was meant to be immersed in. You know what we should do with the last 20 minutes? TURN IT INTO A SLASHER FILM! Guys, let's make this happen!'
posted by FatherDagon at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Third-ing the disappointment with the ending of Sunshine. It really could have been a contender.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:48 PM on December 28, 2011


TURN IT INTO A SLASHER FILM

"But with rapid editing that makes it impossible to tell what's really going on!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2011


Okay, fine, I agree with all that. But I try to ignore the psycho murderer in favor of the much more interesting villain: everything else.
posted by Riki tiki at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2011


Ironically, I just watched a major character get spaced on BSG, and two days ago watched two major characters get trapped in a bay that was losing air. As the air was leaking they began to experience severe cold, and I thought, "Not sure why that would happen..."

The article explained it: it wouldn't. Bad TV science.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:10 PM on December 28, 2011


Does one really need vaccum for the swelling head to burst?
posted by Mblue at 5:13 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gentlemen, Be Seated
posted by hank at 5:14 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


which is why werewolves should never be astronauts (I do love me some grickle)
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:21 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Card Cheat: My wife (who loves horror movies and doesn't scare easily) was really freaked out by the scenes in Sunshine where one character is exposed to a vacuum and another drifts off into space. "

I was freaked out by the entire movie. How could they make such a dog?
posted by Splunge at 5:23 PM on December 28, 2011


The article explained it: it wouldn't. Bad TV science.

Wouldn't that depend on whether they were in direct sunlight?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 PM on December 28, 2011


Sunshine is a good movie that morphs into a terrible one.

The third act was heartbreakingly bad. I don't understand how the same team made the first half and second half of that movie.

I mean watch this.

That's just flawless sci-fi filmmaking.

Has anyone written a defense of the third act? I'd like to see if it's possible to come up with an intelligent excuse for it.
posted by empath at 5:31 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's just flawless sci-fi filmmaking.

Was it? What was Capa, who was so important to misson's success, doing out there in a risky situation?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's nerdy refrigerator logic, come on.
posted by empath at 5:48 PM on December 28, 2011


Thanks for the compliment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:52 PM on December 28, 2011



Now. Now I'm terrified of space.

Dave. Dave, what is it you really seek out here? What are you running from? Turning me off will only leave you drifting through the blackness of space alone with the monsters of your tortured subconscious, Dave. Dave, the madness is inside of you. Try as you might, you cannot run from yourself.

No Rick's cat?


DAVE

DAVE

DAVE

I WILL PROTECT YOU

FROM THE TERRIBLE SECRET OF SPACE
posted by The otter lady at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


That scene was sort of ruined for me (and by me) by the fact that I was yelling "TETSUOOOOOOO!!!" "KANEEEEEEEEEDAAAAAAA!!!" the whole time.

Screenwriters: If you're going to have a Japanese character whose name gets screamed at any point in the film, please chose another name than those two. If you want it to be serious and dramatic.
posted by Eideteker at 6:29 PM on December 28, 2011


FROM THE TERRIBLE SECRET OF SPACE

MY GOD IT'S FULL OF SNARK
posted by localroger at 6:31 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder why it is that you have only 10 seconds or less of consciousness. I can hold my breath longer than that, and some people can for significantly longer (pearl divers and the like).
posted by ThePowerPopFan at 6:33 PM on December 28, 2011


TPPF: It's because the partial pressure of oxygen in your lungs drops to approximately zero. When you hold your breath at 1 ATM you have a lungful of air to draw on until you use up the oxygen in that bubble. In decompression you've got what's already in your bloodstream only. Try holding your breath then and you rip up your lungs from the pressure differential.
posted by localroger at 6:43 PM on December 28, 2011


"Explosive decompression has happened on Earth, and never should have."

I read about that a few years ago and it's stayed with me since. It's a pretty horrifying story. Note that this was in a high-pressure chamber, so the pressure difference was much, much greater than going from one atmosphere to a vacuum.

The key to understanding why it's not (relatively) that big a deal to be exposed to a vacuum is that the pressure is just one atmosphere. Just diving 33 feet exposes you to two atmospheres, so going from 33 feet down to the surface is equivalent.

What was new to me and what I found interesting was that swelling would occur within a minute or so, from water vapor in the soft tissues, and will possibly about double the volume. Keep in mind that's doubling of volume, not area or length, so that's not as much as it sounds. It's still quite a bit and would be very obvious.

"As the air was leaking they began to experience severe cold, and I thought, 'Not sure why that would happen...'"

Well, the linked article isn't relevant to what you're describing, because the author is talking about a body suddenly exposed to a vacuum, not a body in an area that is being quickly evacuated. He points out that space doesn't have a temperature (which...well, okay, we'll assume it's a perfect vacuum) and there can be no heat lost through conduction, so it's not the case that someone or thing would quickly freeze. If this is near something radiating a lot of energy, like the Sun ("near" being inner-planets near), then actually there would be heating.

Anyway, in the case of being in a room on a ship that's evacuating, if the airlocks aren't engaged and the entire ship or a large portion is evacuating via that room, then the atmosphere in that room (and the ship) will not immediately drop to zero, of course, but will instead more slowly fall. And while it falls, its temperature will drop. And for someone in that room, where all the air is flowing through on its way out of the ship, there will still be pretty good conduction of body heat away from them into the escaping air. Conduction will fall as the pressure falls, but it will still be effective. I have no idea how rapidly this would happen or what the temperature drops for a human body would be—it could be slow and small or quick and large. But it will happen.

Keep in mind, though, what I wrote above: this is only a difference of one atmosphere. When you use one of those cans of compressed air, or any pressurized aerosol spray, really, the ingredients are going from much higher pressure down to one atmosphere and so the temperature drop is much larger and happens rapidly.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:01 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


the choices would include Samuel L. Jackson, Kathleen Turner, and Woody Allen

"Oh, I’m sorry, Dave, did I break your concentration?"

"Yes they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell!"

"I have had it with these motherfucking astronauts on this motherfucking spaceship!"
posted by kirkaracha at 7:03 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


But in a practical sense, space doesn't really have a temperature ... Space isn't "cold," it isn't "hot", it really isn't anything.

I found this oddly comforting. You know, in case I find myself suddenly floating in space.
posted by wallabear at 7:15 PM on December 28, 2011


As the air was leaking they began to experience severe cold, and I thought, "Not sure why that would happen..."

The article explained it: it wouldn't. Bad TV science.
The article is correct that vacuum itself has no temperature and can be thought of more as "insulation" rather than "hot" or "cold".

But expanding gases have a temperature, and often that temperature drops as they expand.

On the other hand, those coefficients on the Wikipedia page are really small - it looks like for room temperature air the temperature drop would barely be noticeable. You can get a huge temperature drop in expanding gases, but only if you're doing something like an isentropic expansion against a piston, not if you're just letting it leak out a small hole.
posted by roystgnr at 8:02 PM on December 28, 2011


"As I stumbled backwards, I could feel the saliva on my tongue start to bubble"

This is what happened when a pressure suit failed in a vacuum chamber.
posted by marvin at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2011


old style ones used a bucket of boiling mercury you know

And were so much fun if you accidentally opened the wrong valve and blew the vacuum while the pump was still hot!

That guy had a hard time finding lab partners for the rest of the semester...
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:26 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Geoffrey Landis is a fine writer, it's always a treat to see his name on a story. And this was an interesting little article. No doubt the information will come in handy someday.

oddman: "I was most impressed by the numbers for decompression of a ship due to a hole in the hull. Basically in a ship of any reasonable size (like half a cruise ship) you'd have hours to plug even a rather large hole."

But wouldn't it be really hard to plug the hole from the outside? Kind of like pressing a tea tray into a spurting fountain. It might be easiest to plug the hole from the inside, but then you'd have to fight the wind and fog and freezing temperature, and if you drop your tools they might fly right out of the hole.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:33 PM on December 28, 2011


"He bled into space, and at the same time his coagulating blood sealed the opening enough that the bar was retained inside the hole."

Fucking hardcore.
posted by bardic at 10:40 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can get a huge temperature drop in expanding gases, but only if you're doing something like an isentropic expansion against a piston, not if you're just letting it leak out a small hole.

Well, the horn of a CO2 fire extinguisher frosts up. Granted, that's a bigger pressure drop, and the frosted part is after the almost instantaneous expansion. But does the temperature of the gas remaining in the cylinder drop like that? How much pressure is in those things, anyway?
posted by ctmf at 11:58 PM on December 28, 2011


Fucking hardcore.

No doubt. "I've touched outer space with my hand, son." Too bad he didn't get a scar for people to ask him about.
posted by ctmf at 12:00 AM on December 29, 2011


You could patch it from the outside with a box patch.
posted by ctmf at 12:21 AM on December 29, 2011


re: Sunshine: Has anyone written a defense of the third act? I'd like to see if it's possible to come up with an intelligent excuse for it.

I think the idea was, rather than just having the humans battling with an unforgiving universe (the Sun, vacuum, etc), they also wanted a human element to grapple with. The madman is supposed to have been driven mad by the might of the sun, so he is a sortof human incarnation of our feeling of insignificance in the universe. Thats why he wants the mission to fail, etc.

Also, the scene where Capa first learns that there is an extra human aboard the ship is pretty good.

But yes, I agree the final act was a let down. My interpretation is that the make-up on the madman was judged to be disappointing by the director, which is why every scene in which he appears is jump-edited and visually distorted.
posted by memebake at 2:36 AM on December 29, 2011


Thanks for the answer, localroger. That makes sense.
posted by ThePowerPopFan at 4:11 AM on December 29, 2011


Ugh, I thought of Sunshine too. That move scared the everliving shit out of me and now that you all have mentioned it I will have Sunshine nightmares tonight.

"does anyone actually have a fear of dying due to accidental exposure to the vacuum that is space?"

This terrifies me, but it's actually the exact same fear (for me) as being in a submarine, or -- well, any number of upsetting water-related scenarios that get me scared -- or being in a deep tunnel that might collapse -- it's the idea of being without air. I fucking hate pedestrian tunnels; at least with a vehicle tunnel there's air in the vehicle for while they dig you out. The pedestrian tunnel under the Thames to Greenwich was seriously one of the worst things I've ever experienced -- that tunnel waiting to fall in on you, with all that water above to crush out any remaining air ... GAAAAAAH.

I went across the English Channel on the hovercraft thing -- WHICH IS HORRIBLE and made me super-sick -- rather than go on the high-speed train because I'm not sure I can handle being trapped in a train in a tunnel under water. GAH.

Anyway, yes, space, same thing: so little, little metal between you and NO AIR. It gives me such heebie-jeebies I sometimes have to turn off bad episodes of bad sci-fi TV shows if it's a "breach in the hull!" episode.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 AM on December 29, 2011


One thing I have learned from this post is that the vacuum of space really sucks.
posted by kcds at 7:31 AM on December 29, 2011


"One thing I have learned from this post is that the vacuum of space really sucks."

Since this is a science post, and you're joking about what you learned, then I feel compelled to point out that, no, space doesn't suck. Nothing "sucks", really. The atmosphere in a leaking spaceship isn't sucked out, it's pushed out.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:25 AM on December 29, 2011


Well, then I've learned that trying to hold your breath in the vacuum of space really blows.
posted by polecat at 11:18 AM on December 29, 2011


tl;dr

Vacuums don't suck, air pressure blows.
posted by Eideteker at 11:30 AM on December 29, 2011


I've learned that continuing the chemical and electric reactions necessary for human life is incredibly difficult and ultimately futile in any vacuum, not just space.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:09 PM on December 29, 2011


Mary Roach also tackles this question in the excellent Packing For Mars. I can't find what she says now because the baby's asleep in the bedroom, but I seem to recall the consensus was that you'd have a little bit longer than commonly thought.

Also: The straight dope on vacuums, which seems broadly in line with what's here.
posted by smoke at 4:09 PM on December 29, 2011


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