Floating In Space!

Like last week’s post on Flying in Space (a title I received far too many angry e-mails about, how you’re not actually “Flying” in space, among other things), today we’re going to learn about what would happen if you could FLOAT in space! Unlike the flying in space post, this time we’re going to cover all the variables, and not have a magical space suit (for the most part).

First, let’s assume that you’re flying around the Earth in orbit, at the same distance as the ISS (but for purely simplistic reasons, you wouldn’t ever collide with it). Your first problem would be the obvious, Oxygen and breathable air (for another simplistic reason, the rest of this blog will reference “Air” as in what you’re currently breathing in). The human body is actually quite decent at keeping what’s inside in, and what’s outside out. Unless you cut yourself, your blood goes round and round, and air goes in and out (any variation of that, and you should seek emergency medical attention). Within the first 10 seconds of your air supply running out, you’d begin to asphyxiate (a fancy term for unable to breath), as your body attempts to suck in quantities of carbon dioxide as it increasingly became more and more concentrated. With every breath, your body uses whatever oxygen is left until there is no oxygen left. In about 10 seconds it would be all gone, and in about 15 seconds you’d pass out unconscious.

Let’s assume for a moment that your body didn’t require air to function, and your lungs just magically generated whatever it required to work. What would happen then? Well, since you aren’t wearing a space suit at this time, you’d actually get a pretty wicked case of sunburn right quick. So quick in fact that the pain would be astronomical.. ha.. see what I did there? As your body burned up with 2nd degree burns (severe blistering, extreme redness, possible bleeding), you’d then be hoping for something to protect you, but a sunburn isn’t the worst thing right now. In space, it’s a nearly complete vacuum (not 100%). The exposed parts of your body such as your eyes, your mouth/lips, your butt and your dirty bits are all accessible ports for inside stuff to come out, and since your body can’t sustain the pressure inside itself for long in a nearly complete vacuum, those insides will start to swell up and dry. As the liquids begin to boil, you’ll begin to sweat profusely. I’m not talking sweating after going for a good run, I’m talking streams of liquid that isn’t sweat coming from every exposed area of your body.

So, now your lips and eyes are swollen to about 200% of their current size (which means you can’t breath anymore even if you wanted too, and you can’t see), your blood and internal body temperature is boiling away to nearly nothing. You’ve wet yourself and pooped yourself, and brain fluid is beginning to seep from your ears. You wouldn’t ever explode like Science Fiction would lead you to believe, you’d actually swell to about 200% of your current size, give or take. Skin is a wonderful elastic organ on your body, the largest organ in fact, and it has the uncanny ability to expand far beyond its current state holding everything in. So you’re now a giant sausage in semi-humanoid shape floating along, cooking yourself slowly from the outside in, while other radiation sources cook you from the inside out at the same time. Oh, this would happen in roughly 2-3 minutes, and you’d be dead in roughly 10-15 minutes.

Now, for any thermodynamic experts reading this blog, you should know of convection and conduction, or for the non-experts, the way heat is transferred from one medium to another. In the most basic designs in your car, a radiator pumps fluid through tubes integrated throughout the engine block, collecting the heat as it goes, then using what’s known as “Convective heat transfer” in the radiator itself, cools the fluid, ready to begin its journey all over again. Since there is air around the coils of wire in the radiator, this process works as the gas is taking the heat from the coils of metal away and dissipating it. Last time I checked there’s no air in space, so your body, as it floats along in space, there’s no medium for this heat to transfer, so your body would actually stay warm to the touch for a few hours after your death. Creepy I know, but it would take roughly 9-10 hours before your body began to feel cold, and roughly 12 hours before you’d begin to be freeze. You’d lose heat only to natural heat radiation, and no other process.

As you’d dry out, and freeze solid, you’d begin to shrink again from your currently swollen state. You’d shrink to about 50% of your normal, alive healthy state, mummifying yourself. Coming into contact with any source of atmosphere or worse yet, star, you’d burn up into nothing in a few seconds. After typing that sentence I realize that that would happen regardless of your internal water content, but I just wanted to type it anyway 😛

Jeff Wilton

Jeff is the founder and owner of Everyday Science Stuff. ESS is a one man operation, with the core belief that all education should be served without crippling debt tuition, without revenue generating ads and without any restrictions of any kind such as paywalls, forced login and account creations, geographical restrictions, and so on.

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