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What Would Space Do To The Human Body?


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Channel: BrainStuff - HowStuffWorks
Categories: Astronomy   |   Health   |   Physics   |   Science  
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Space without a suit? You’ll probably die from the lack of pressure in a vacuum. But other extreme hazards won’t help either.

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Remember that time in “Battlestar Galactica” when that one character was blown out an airlock into outer space without a suit?

No? What about when it happened in “2001?” Or “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Or “Sunshine?”

Yes, we all dream about travelling in space. But if movies are any indication, we spend almost as much time thinking about flying around up there without a suit on!

So let’s answer this question once and for all. What would space actually do to a human body?

Well here’s the good news: you wouldn’t die instantly. Yeah, you might actually survive for a little bit out there. How do we know? Because somebody tested it out… on dogs.

In 1965, researchers at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas exposed several dogs to a near vacuum. The dogs survived for up to 90 seconds. But if they went two minutes or more they died when repressurized. If your first thought is, “They did this to dogs?!” I’m right there with you.

Researchers at NASA did the same to chimpanzees in the late 1960s, finding that they could last up to 3.5 minutes.

And then there’s been a few accidents where people got de-and-then-re-pressurized, like a technician at Johnson Space Center who lost consciousness after 12 seconds. This was just before the moisture on his tongue began to boil.

See, without air pressure to keep your precious bodily fluids in their liquid state they would rapidly lose heat energy before they froze and then evaporated totally.

This isn’t the worst thing the lack of pressure can do to you either. The gases inside you would expand, causing you to swell up like a balloon in a Thanksgiving Day parade. This includes air and gas bubbles formed from your boiling body fluids. That effect is called “ebullism,” which can block your bloodstream with these bubbles.

And that would cause you to pass out in about 15 seconds from the lack of blood flowing to your brain. Your skin’s blood vessels would burst. Your internal organs would also swell and likely tear. But you wouldn’t explode like in “Total Recall.” You’d just stretch painfully until you died.

Keep in mind, so far we’ve only been talking about the effects to a body in a vacuum. In actual space there are even more hazards to deal with. Depending on your location you could either be exposed to a star’s thermal radiation at around 120 degrees Celsius, or your own body heat would radiate away in the shade at around -100 degrees.

Finally, there’s the obvious lack of oxygen. Normally you could hold your breath for several minutes. But remember, without pressure, that whole boiling effect would diffuse the oxygen from your blood.

So again, after about 15 seconds you’d pass out. And don’t try to hold your breath either. It would just expand with the other gases, rupturing your lungs. All-in-all these things would probably kill you in less than a minute.


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