Sunday, March 10, 2013

What I learned today #6: About space

If you ever watched The Magic School Bus when you were a kid, maybe you remember this bit about Arnold turning to ice:

Don’t worry, he thaws out.

I always kinda believed that that’s essentially what would happen to an astronaut if one really did remove the helmet out in space.

Apparently that’s not the case!

A nuclear physicist and wannabe-astronaut I know informed me today that somebody who takes his helmet off in space is probably going to survive for a minute or so (and would thus have enough time to get back into the safety of a ship – maybe).

No air, you say? People can hold their breath for at least a minute. Nothing about that changes by being out in space.

It’s cold, you say? Yes – around 3 degrees Kelvin apparently (almost as cold as it gets anywhere in the universe) – but it takes quite a lot of time to cool you down when there’s no air hitting you to transfer your body heat to. Not exactly a snap freeze.

No air pressure, you say? So you depressurize fast – on earth, it’s called the bends (like when scuba divers go too deep and come up too fast). It makes you pass out. But there are ways to survive, one of which involves spending two weeks in a pressure chamber that slowly decompresses you. (The physicist assures me they give you books and a little TV to pass the time.)

Who’da thunk?

2 comments:

Abby said...

Was this somebody at church? And how in the world did you get on this subject with the aforementioned person?

Sarah said...

No, somebody else you haven't met, and... I'm not sure how we got to that subject! I think it had something to do with Russia (or rather the Ukraine, I think) and radiation from a nuclear facility explosion there. I saw a link a long time ago about Chernobyl and thought of it: http://www.elenafilatova.com/ (very interesting)