October 26, 2013

Dying in space is lots of fun

In a Der Spiegel interview with German astronaut Ulrich Walter, he was asked about the veracity of the movie "Gravity". Were the depictions of danger accurate?

Walter had a lot of praise for the movie but he also said they got some things wrong. For instance, he said that running out of air in space can be a really enjoyable episode in your life. The last episode, but what can you do?
When you're slowly running out of oxygen, the same thing happens as does when you're in thin air at the top of a mountain: Everything seems funny. And as you're laughing about it, you slowly nod off. I experienced this phenomenon in an altitude chamber during my training as an astronaut. At some point, someone in the group starts cracking bad jokes. Our brains are gentle with us. A person who dies alone in space dies a cheerful death.
So, great. If this should ever happen to you -- don't worry, be happy.  There's also a side conversation that was amusing. He was asked if anything bad occurred while he was aboard the space station:
Walter: It did, but it was something harmless. Our toilet's urine tank broke. So we collected our urine in a plastic bag instead and poured it outside through an airlock. As soon as it contacted the vacuum of space, it formed a lovely cloud of urine snow and drifted away. 

SPIEGEL: Creating new space debris. 

Walter: Don't worry. Those frozen pee flakes were very light and fluffy -- they weren't dangerous.
Once again, no problema. The urine flakes sound delightful.

I do worry that he got it wrong about suffocating, though. It can't be fun. It just can't. On the other hand, he's talking about suffocating while there's still an atmosphere to breathe. Sure, it's CO2, but it's not like someone taped your mouth and nostrils shut. There's probably a huge gulf between these two experiences. Common sense says this is true. Out of the two possibilities, I'd definitely choose to suffocate in space. But I think I'll stay down here and breathe the air until China succeeds in making it unfit for life.

1 comment:

Artichoke Annie said...

Maybe we could just jettison our old and dying into space, sounds delightful, better than the 'death center' in Soylent Green, which I thought was pretty cool.

At one point the powers that be were thinking about sending out nuclear waste into space. I wonder if it would transform in to fluffy flakes as well?