What happens if you're exposed to the vacuum of space?

12 August 2012

Question

Hello, excellent show...i'm an addict. I have a theoretical question about being exposed to outer space. if a person were to be instantly exposed to outer space, perhaps something like an astronaut opening his/her space suit while floating outside there vehicle, would the person explode first due to the lack of air pressure, or freeze first because of the lack of heat?

Thanks,
Ahmed

Answer

Dominic - That's an interesting one because if you read books, what the books will often tell you is that the person will explode in the vacuum of space. I've been thinking about this for a little while, and I'm not actually sure I quite believe that, because something you will often hear in the news is that aircrafts have depressurised at altitude. There was a case over Australia a few years ago where a plane developed a hole when it was flying at about 40,000 ft. and the pressure up there is only about 20% of the pressure on the surface of the Earth. So that's about 80% of going to the vacuum of space and everyone on the aircraft survived. People routinely survive aircraft depressurisations. It's quite unpleasant, but you don't explode. So, my guess will be that you will pass out quite quickly unless you have a source of oxygen. The air will obviously sucked out of your lungs and oxygen from your bloodstream will start to leach out into your lungs. You'll get something very similar to bends, like divers get, and it will all be very unpleasant. But as long as you quickly restored pressure, I think you might survive.

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