In Space Without a Suit? Here’s How You’d Die

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Garrett Reisman

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Garrett Reisman is a former NASA Astronaut. He is currently a Professor of Astronautical Engineering at USC and a Senior Advisor at SpaceX.

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Yeah, and how long would you survive out there with no suit? That's a good question. Just holding your breath. Just holding... Well, you can't really hold your breath because as the pressure all goes down, the first thing you have to worry about is barotrauma. So like in your lungs and in your sinuses, it's all going to like an overinflated balloon. So if you try to hold your breath, that's a wrong thing to do because you're going to... Actually you have to let the breath out. You can't really do that for very long though. Like the way people hold their breath underwater, they actually have breath in their lungs. But they're not equalizing with the pressure as they go down. When they do those free diving things. So if you're going to equalize, you're going to have to let the air out or it's going to just expand and it'll be extremely painful and hurt you. So you could do that, but then eventually you get to the point where the pressure gets so low that all the liquid in your tissues starts turning into gas. It's called ebullism. And then you'll start getting this massive swelling like your neck will puff up like that and everything. You'll get grotesque swelling and wherever that your blood is turning to gas and all the liquids in your tissues are turning into gas. It's not a good thing. How long will that take before that starts happening? That will start happening fairly quickly when you equalize after you breathe out all that air. You can counteract it by having squeeze suits like suits with mechanical counter pressure that squeeze it and hold it in like a blood pressure cuff kind of pressure kind of thing. So you could do that. It doesn't sound promising. No, there's ways you can live through it. We've had this happen to people in vacuum chambers accidents like industrial vacuum chambers and one test chamber in NASA once had an accident and we've momentarily subjected people to close to space vacuum, but very quickly got them back to pressure and they were okay. So all the bubbles just kind of like... Yeah, it was like, slow down.