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back to article Space-walker nearly OPENED HELMET to avoid DROWNING

Back in July, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano went for a spacewalk from the International Space Station. The sortie broke a record for the shortest spacewalk of all time because his helmet filled with water, leading to a swift termination lest he suffer the bizarre fate of drowning in space. Parmitano's now blogged details of …

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Drowned in space...

Oh the irony!

I sense a really good SF murder mystery... There was something by, um, Heinlein? involving a spacer who discovers the space station cat has left a kitten in his spacesuit.

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Headmaster

Re: Drowned in space...

..There was something by, um, Heinlein? involving a spacer who discovers the space station cat..

A C CLARKE!

I don't know why Heinlein seems to have become the de facto science-fiction quote reference. A bit like Oscar Wilde. He wasn't a particularly good writer, but he appealed to the American psyche for some reason. Possibly the mindless violence...

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Unhappy

A minute silence please

for our valiant first playmonaut, who did not survive drowning in his spacesuit.

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Re: Drowned in space...

>I sense a really good SF murder mystery

An episode of Monk (Mr. Monk Goes To Mexico) had a student drowning during a parachute jump.

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Re: Drowned in space...

@Dodgy Geezer

Apologies to the late Arthur C. I should know better, but I didn't have time to check (and I have a lot more Heinlein than Clarke in my collection).

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Re: Drowned in space...

It's true there is a lot more violence in Heinlein books than in Clarke books. One of the reasons the Heinlein ones are much more realistic and convincing.

Reading Clarke is uplifting and often thrilling, but it's a bit like the Whig interpretation of history: everything is continually getting better, and (except for some fairly obvious constructs) there are no bad people.

Heinlein understood that homo sapiens is "the most dangerous animal in the universe". You may not like that fact, but it's hard to dispute unless you live in an insulated ivory tower.

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Re: Drowned in space...

There was a case of a Cave Rescue Voulenteer drowning part way up the big pitch in Rowten Pot Yorkshire whilst on a rescue.

RIP Dave Anderson

And many apologies if I've misremembered any of this.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Drowned in space...

You need to specify which period Clarke you're talking about; his later books are rather less cheery about human behaviour. Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, all of the 'golden age' authors are becoming dated to read.

( not unlike the 'mysterious dome isolates town' story, which goes back to Simak, Wyndham, et al )

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Drowned in space...

"Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, all of the 'golden age' authors are becoming dated to read."

Some were always awful - like L. Ron Hubbard

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Angel

Re: Drowned in space...

Not True! L. Ron Hubbard was never good enough to Awful!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Drowned in space...

Ah, El Reg - where you can't even discuss science fiction authors without someone trashing on Americans for liking the wrong ones. Why do I get the feeling that the average Reg commentard would sift through a conversation about ancient Rome and manage to blame the United States for something?

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Boffin

Re: Drowned in space...

Heinlein wrote about a Cat who could walk through walls.

That's probably why people associate cats in space w Heinlein.

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Re: dangerous animal...

You are forgetting the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal. I defy you to prove me wrong.

And here on earth the mosquito far outclasses mere humans.

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Holmes

Re: Drowned in space...

Yet Hubbard won the bet with Heinlein about whether more bacon could be brought in by creating a cargo cult for idiots rather than writing SciFi.

Good business acumen. Though sadly bereft of any ethics.

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Re: Heinlein appealing to the American psyche

I would suggest it is largely due to the libertarian beliefs of Heinlein's protagonists. They're all about "Freedom!" and "Self-reliance!" which are myths that seem particularly dear to the hearts of Americans.

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Re: Heinlein appealing to the American psyche

@Rattus Rattus: You can be too naive, but you can also be too cynical - and British people perhaps tend to that. Now I have been a Heinlein fan since 1959 or so, and I'm Scots-Irish (and a confirmed cynic). You may scoff at freedom and self-reliance as discredited ideals, but they matter even if you admit that human beings are intrinsically social and interdependent.

How often have you heard it said that a good marriage or partnership depends on two people who can survive - and indeed thrive - alone? Not two mutually dependent weaklings who are both looking for a parent figure to sustain them.

Likewise, as far back as Plato and beyond it has been well understood that, while democracy is potentially a good system of government, it works only when the people are individually robust, self-reliant, educated, and mature.

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Re: Drowned in space...

I think you are referring to "The Haunted Spacesuit" by Arthur C. Clake. http://hermiene.net/short-stories/haunted_space_suit.html

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Headmaster

Re: Heinlein appealing to the American psyche

"Freedom!" and "Self-reliance!" which are myths

Extreme faceplam demanded. Myths? Is this like the modern version of Logan's Run?

"Freedom and Self-reliance are MYTHS! You will DIE if the government doesn't constantly HELP AND TAX YOU!!11!"

Also:

Jeff Riggenbach: Was Robert A. Heinlein a Libertarian?

Isaac Asimov, who knew Heinlein from the mid-'30s on, was convinced that his personal political views were largely a function of the woman he was married to at the time. In the '30s, when he was married to wife #2, Leslyn MacDonald, whom Asimov describes as "a flaming liberal," Heinlein was working with Upton Sinclair and his EPIC movement. Twenty years later, married to wife #3, Virginia Gerstenfeld, he re-emerged as a Cold Warrior fixated on the supposed nobility of the military and newly devoted to a "free market" for which he had had little use during the years of the Great Depression.

If so it was, I say, "so be it." Many men have tailored their beliefs to match those of their wives. They have found that it helps to preserve and promote domestic harmony. And they believe that domestic harmony is a valuable thing, a thing worth preserving. Robert A. Heinlein was hardly the only man, or even the first man, to venture down this path.

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Re: Drowned in space...

"You need to specify which period Clarke you're talking about; his later books are rather less cheery about human behaviour".

I may have missed the later books, as I found his SF rather too much like non-fiction. (Asimov was another writer whose non-fiction could sometimes be more exciting than his fiction, due to his uncanny ability to fashion characters out of solid wood). What little I know of Clarke's own life might suggest reasons for that trend.

"Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, all of the 'golden age' authors are becoming dated to read".

I can hardly think why. In the 1960s we all assumed that, by 2013, men would have set foot on the inner planets and would perhaps be living in permanent bases on the Moon, Mars, and some of the asteroids. Instead, we are still chained to Earth - hardly anything has changed since 1960, except that we can send unmanned probes to the edge of the solar system. Computers have evolved marvellously, but in principle they can't do much that Charles Babbage couldn't have imagined. And as for personal and social progress... well, it's unclear whether there has been any, and if so in which direction.

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Re: dangerous animal...

It's possible that, within a limited geographical area, the mosquito - or, to be more accurate, the malaria plasmodium - has killed more human beings than other human beings have.

But think of all the other species that homo sapiens has exterminated or driven to the edge of extinction. If you take off the blinkers and consider all-round destruction, there is only one champion!

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Re: Heinlein appealing to the American psyche

Have you considered the null hypothesis - that Heinlein, like all intelligent people, matured and gradually changed his views as he grew up? Also, WW2 might have had something to do with making him a believer in the need to "water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots" - hardly a novel idea.

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Re: Drowned in space...

> Reading Clarke is uplifting and often thrilling, but it's a bit like the Whig interpretation of history: everything is continually getting better,

Historically speaking, this is actually true. The present is without doubt the most prosperous, peaceful, and free time humanity has ever seen, and the interesting thing is that _this has been true for at least the past 300 years_.

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Happy

“Better not to forget.”

"Keep helmet closed when outside."

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

Actually, controlled and limited exposure to high vacuum is not necessarily fatal or even seriously harmful. (You could probably find plots that hinge on that in Clarke, Heinlein, and more recent writers such as Stross).

You certainly wouldn't want uncontrolled depressurisation of your helmet, as all your most important bits are on or in your head (contrary to what some of you may think, admittedly). But limited depressurisation through a small hole, possibly ending when the hole gets plugged by ice... it's not nearly as hopeless as it sounds.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

A controlled decompression with air shouldn't be too bad, if suitably swift. With water, though, I'd be worried about the freezing water jamming something important open.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

"If you hold a lungful of air you can survive in the total vacuum of space for about thirty seconds. However, what with space being the mindboggling size it is, the chances of getting picked up by another ship within those thirty seconds are 2 ^ 276709:1 against.."

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

Props for the HHGTTG reference; but in vacuum the last thing you want is a lungful of air, I believe. Not unless you want your lungs trying to exit through your nose.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

>Not unless you want your lungs trying to exit through your nose.

All the really nasty stuff you read about, blood boiling, etc happens long after you have suffocated. The biggest immediate danger in space is still boring ole suffocation.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

Yeah but. If vacuum is all around you then you want your lungs to be carrying as little pressure as possible. Taking a deep breath; holding it and then stepping out into vacuum certainly increases the risk of rupturing something valuable before you get a chance to suffocate. Whether the human body is robust enough to withstand that I honestly don't know...someone else can go first.

Meantime, I think I'd be taking Larry Niven & Gerry Pournelle's advice from Footfall. Scream and empty your lungs. Makes sense to me. Lessen the pressure and therefore the chance of rupture; alerts everyone that assistance would be gratefully received; plus if you're floating in space there's not a lot of other proactive things you can do with your 30 seconds or whatever.

The screaming, by the way, is a way of controlling the exhale. Could easily be wrong with this bit but I should imagine that letting your lung pressure drop below that of the pleural cavity (if that's what it's called - can't be arsed to look it up) might risk collapsed lungs. That would possibly sort itself out if you got back to pressure; but would be fairly uncomfortable in the meantime, I imagine.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

Indeed, for example the short story "Take a Deep Breath" by Arthur C Clarke.

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Re: “Better not to forget.”

You have 1 atmosphere pressure in your lungs, possibly more. In vacuum your lungs will therefore inflate to at least twice their normal, fully inflated, size, which is not something lungs are designed to withstand.

This problem often comes up with divers. If you come up from depth holding your breath, the pressure difference can cause your lungs to rupture (note that this doesn't apply to freedivers, who fill their lungs to capacity at the surface and then their lungs compress at depth).

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in space no-one can hear you scream

it is awesome to read how he handled that so well, and managed to remain so calm.

I *would* like to know how this happened though, the source of the problem wasn't mentioned in his blog

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Trollface

Re: in space no-one can hear you scream

the source of the problem wasn't mentioned in his blog

Nah...it's too embarrassing.

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Re: in space no-one can hear you scream

Still under investigation, they've narrowed it down to about 3 components.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: in space no-one can hear you scream

>Nah...it's too embarrassing.

Mixed up the ends of the "pee" tube and the "air" tube?

:O NOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooooo.........

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Scary

In this age of spaceflight becoming almost routine (or at least having people living up there for extended periods) it does rather bring starkly back quite what a dangerous and unforgiving place it actually is.

I wonder quite how many potential billionaire space tourists are now perhaps having second thoughts? Yes I know they won't generally be space-walking and such, but it does give pause for thought. And given what other articles have described about the mechanics of what happened (the way the water would basically stick to your head and flow around it to cover the entire surface) it is indeed a nightmare scenario when you could physically do nothing about it.

I would say you have to take your hat off to the courage of these pioneers, but as noted that's rather the last thing to be done in the circumstances...

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Pint

Re: Scary

"... And given what other articles have described about the mechanics of what happened (the way the water would basically stick to your head and flow around it to cover the entire surface) it is indeed a nightmare scenario when you could physically do nothing about it. ..."

Start drinking? If it flowed over your mouth, and you could suck it in and swallow it, then with the amount of water being limited, could you perhaps uncover your mouth enough to breathe?

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Re: Scary

I was thinking this as well but (I'm guessing) if he doesn't know where the water is coming from it may be a bad idea in case it's contaminated. The ISS itself uses ammonia among other nasties for cooling, I can't find anything that specifies the same for the suits but it may have been a consideration.

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He did that!

In the first article on this subject, it is mentioned that "drinking the water" was actually one of the things he did, noting that it tasted funny (I think it was iodine in the water?) But it was just too much to drink it all away.

Now that's courage, drinking water you don't know where it came from!

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Re: Scary

"In this age of spaceflight becoming almost routine ... it does rather bring starkly back quite what a dangerous and unforgiving place it actually is.

I wonder quite how many potential billionaire space tourists are now perhaps having second thoughts?"

It's not that much worse than being at 30-odd thousand feet and people hop on planes with barely a thought so I would guess they wouldn't be put off.

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Not really scary

It is only newsworthy because of the novelty value of this being in space.Similar scary incidents happen every day on Planet Earth to scuba divers. Every day people die in various extreme sports, or even travelling to work/vacation. Yet still they come.

There is absolutely no reason to think this event would have any impact on space tourism.

If anything would worry space tourists, it would be the actual transport to/from the space station. About 1.5% of space shuttle flights ended in death.

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Pint

Re: He did that!

If I were designing a cooling system for a spacesuit it would circulate Beer. The alcohol could substitute for iodine as a disinfectant. Then if there was a leak there would be a positive side to the situation and no funny iodine taste. How many liters could one drink (in an emergency, of course), 3, 4, 5? All in an evening's work for most Reg readers, yes? Which brings me to a follow up question, is there currently Beer on the International Space Station? If not, why not? Also, can they smoke indoors or must they step outside? I have to say, this article has piqued my interest in space!

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Coat

SPOILERS

You ruined the ending of his blog by revealing that he survived the ordeal so that he could blog about it.

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Facepalm

Re: SPOILERS

You dozy plonker.

The quotes from the astronaut describing the issue in first person should have given you a clue that he survived to tell you the tale.

Plus, this story was in the news a while back.. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23339578

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Re: SPOILERS

@Justin Stringfellow, you need to fix your irony detector. It seems leaking.

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Holmes

Re: SPOILERS

@Justin Stringfellow

You dozy plonker.

It would seem "he survived the ordeal so that he could blog about it" and the "I'll get my coat" icon aren't big enough clues for you to spot a joke.

Still the fact that you tried to educate Rich in subtle art of deduction and then went to the trouble of looking up an old news article to demonstrate vast knowledge of watery space walk stories, has given me copious laughs this morning. Bravo.

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Coat

Re: SPOILERS

This icon ------>

LOL, yep my irony detector was completely offline.

I will indeed get my coat now.

Sobriety is not working out for me, I'm off to buy some beer.

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Pint

Re: SPOILERS (@ Justin Stringfellow 21st August 2013 09:54)

Upvoted for recognizing your error. I wish this was more common, in these forums and everywhere.

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Coat

Re: SPOILERS (@ Justin Stringfellow 21st August 2013 09:54)

But what if you never make errors?

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Re: SPOILERS (@ Justin Stringfellow 21st August 2013 09:54)

"But what if you never make errors?"

Then, in space, you live another day.

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