Many dream of going into space. It would be fascinating to visit the International Space Station (ISS) or even explore new worlds. However, traveling in space comes with a series of challenges and hostile environments. Therefore, it is essential to recreate the conditions on Earth that allowed our civilization to thrive. Space suits allow astronauts to venture outside their spacecraft for short periods, providing the necessary air, water, pressure, and physical protection for human survival. How long can one survive in space without a spacesuit?
Death in a few seconds
Science fiction movies and shows, including “2001: A Space Odyssey” depict astronauts suffering and surviving brief exposures in space without a spacesuit. Other films, on the other hand, have portrayed a series of gruesome deaths. But in reality, how long could a person survive if pushed into the cosmic void without a spacesuit? The answer is simple, just a few seconds.
“In about 10-15 seconds, you lose consciousness due to the lack of oxygen” says Stefaan de Mey, a high-ranking official at the European Space Agency (ESA). It might seem like a very short time, but holding your breath is not advisable. In the vacuum, the oxygen that sustains us would become a serious problem. “Oxygen starts to expand and break the lungs, tearing them apart. This would cause blood to boil and gurgle, resulting in an immediate embolism and a fatal impact on your body” de Mey said. Divers face a similar danger when water pressure decreases as they ascend from the depths.
Bodily fluids like saliva and tears would begin to boil. Even a human body would expand, but the skin would be elastic enough to cope with the pressure change. At best, after fainting due to lack of oxygen, since there is no way to change the situation, brain death would follow in a few minutes.
Importance of the spacesuit
So the task of sophisticated spacesuits, besides providing vital oxygen and pressurization, is also to protect astronauts from other dangers and damages. “There’s a temperature problem and threats from radiation and micrometeoroids” de Mey said. “So spacesuits are designed to provide physical protection to astronauts in space”.
Whether an astronaut is in the sunlight or in the shadow of the Sun, they would experience extreme temperatures. They vary from minus 150 to 120 degrees Celsius in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). These conditions would cause burns or freezing. In the latter case, not immediately, as body heat doesn’t dissipate easily in the vacuum.
Spacesuits also provide protection against various types of radiation. In LEO, there’s some shielding from certain forms of radiation. Prolonged or long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation from the sun would cause health problems. Micrometeoroids and space debris also pose a threat. Traveling at tens of kilometers per second, they represent a danger to astronauts conducting extravehicular activities (EVA). Although highly unlikely, spacesuits are designed with multiple layers to help protect astronauts from any micrometeoroids or space debris that may be hurtling through orbit.