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.
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 …
..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...
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.
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 )
"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.
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!
> 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_.
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?
@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.
"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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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...
"... 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?
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.
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!
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!
"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.
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.
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.
I did think that. My thoughts were that he was saying could open a vent somewhere where the water had accumulated and the water would boil into the vacuum. Doing this would cause the water to drop in temperature, and probably freeze around the vent stopping further venting, and possibly locking the vent open. I then wondered if he meant that ice would sublime.
Having the helmet open a little for a short time wouldn't kill him as long as he didn't try and hold his breath which could cause lung over expansion. Mind you, it's desperate times indeed to be thinking it.
It also shows incredible presence of mind to be faced with death in several interesting ways and to think through how to deal with it. Having had a near underwater panic attack when (in training) someone turned off my air cylinder in space, alone, it would be on the next level (or ten).
"It also shows incredible presence of mind to be faced with death in several interesting ways and to think through how to deal with it."
There are a few people with that kind of psychological make-up - and no doubt it can be greatly enhanced by training and experience. No one else should even be considered for jobs such as jet fighter pilot, submariner, and above all astronaut. If in doubt, watch "Apollo 13" again and marvel that those guys stayed sane, let alone lived to tell the tale.
It seems he was documenting his thinking, rather than doing an objective post-event analysis.
You can forgive a person, even a physics PhD, for not pondering the finer points of phase change while he's <echo>DROWING IN SPAAAACCEE</echo>.
Sublimation or not, the net result would be the same: the latent heat loss would quickly cause ice formation which could make for a bad day.
Yes indeed, or solid to gas. I'm not sure it's appropriate for the simultaneous boiling and freezing which occurs when water is released into a vacuum either. I believe that in a sudden complete loss of pressure the effect is rather violent: much like the mass nucleation that occurs when you open a vigorously shaken bottle of pop. The energy carried away by the vaporising molecules reducing the temperature of the remaining H2O, just as an aerosol can cools as you use it. Water can't exist in a vacuum - only ice or free H2O molecules - molecules with sufficient energy to escape the crystal state are liberated, so all that's left by the sudden "boil" is ice. Not something one would choose to experience around one's head really.
I'm not sure English has a word for the process. Might I propose friel* as an appropriate portmanteau?
English already has words for changes between the most common states of matter:
Solid to liquid - melting
Liquid to solid - freezing
Liquid to gas - evaporation or boiling
Gas to liquid - condensing
Sold to gas - sublimation
Gas to solid - deposition
Gas to plasma - ionization
Plasma to gas - deionization
What I do not know is what changes (e.g. Bose–Einstein condensate) to and from other states are called.
And we tried recreating one of the Apollo missions. While we were building testing, (then rebuilding and testing again) and finally flying our rocket, we talked about the real life missions and all the training astronauts had to go through to not only get to the moon but to deal with almost every conceivable thing that they could think of that could possibly go wrong.
It's hard enough when the expected occurs. When the unexpected occurs, it's ingenuity and bravery like Luca Parmitanos that saves the day.
For Hollywood, this would only rank as a minor incident during a long laser powered arc of action starring a maverick, misunderstood outsider who uses unorthodox means to get what he wants while wearing an oil stained torn T-shirt who coincidentally has a ripped upper body and an unshaven face. Meanwhile his friends who don't approve of his drinking habit, but love him deep down, come to realise that only. this. one. man, can save the world. So they recruit a school of frickin' laser space sharks, who take pity on him, and start to suck all the water from his helmet. But as his O2 level counts down (close-up on) 5...4...3...2.. a micro-meteorite hits the sharks, who explode in fire ball, the hero dies and the President names a school after him.
"You, don't wanna do it like tha-at.
"You don't wanna drink the water away! That gets it too close to your nose and you could breathe it in! An' drown!
"No, you wanna take yer 'elmet right off! Let the water escape and put yer 'elmet back on again!
"'Ere! I'll help!"
It's exceedingly clear that following this nearly-terrible-tragedy the entire ISS simply MUST be de-orbited and any and all space-related activities ceased for at least the next TWO DECADES (or until even the bureaucrats have forgotten why we aren't up there, whichever takes longer). I mean, isn't that how NASA generally handles any problem...?
Can you imagine what evolutionary hurdles we, as humans, had to overcome to be able to survive in such a harsh environment such as space? Took us millions of years to get to the point where bi-pedism became the main factor of enabling our brain to grow exponentially. We have only just grasped the concept of stepping out of our comfort zone and explore potentially lethal environments just for the sake of exploration.
Hats off to these pioneers! Please, please make peeing in space more safe for us mere humans.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reports:
NASA has suspended all US spacewalks* until the problem is resolved.
So, anyone else with a funny accent is OK then.
*Is there any other kind, at the moment?
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/drowning-in-space-astronaut-tells-of-spacewalk-terror-20130821-2sad0.html#ixzz2cigksQA8
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