You’re in space. Floating alone in the vast darkness of space, in sub zero temperatures, no oxygen, no sound. This is terrifying enough without your space suit trying to kill you too.
There are two types of spacesuits, one for space launch and re-entry, and one for spacewalks. The spacewalk suit is known as an Extra-Vehicular Activity suit. On Earth, it weighs about 127 kg (280 lbs). But in orbit, it’s weightless. It takes 45 minutes to put on. After donning the spacesuit, an astronaut must wait for a little more than an hour to adjust to breathing pure oxygen. The spacesuit is a mini life support system, and if it malfunctions, anything could happen.
Why could you drown on a spacewalk? Why is walking in space disorienting? Why does it help if you can mime?
Imagine being alone in space, hundreds of kilometers above the Earth. You wouldn’t want to take your helmet off, as your helmet protects you from the harmful elements of space, ranging from dust, debris, and radiation, to extreme temperatures from -156 °C (-250 °F) to 121 °C (250 °F). Without a fully functioning spacesuit, with its 16 layers designed to retain oxygen and provide protection from space debris, your chance of surviving is questionable.
Here’s what you should do to survive.
Step 1. Study Up
The most important thing that astronauts are trained to do is learn from experience. Training and repetition make certain tasks almost like a muscle memory for astronauts. Being familiar with your surroundings and your equipment are crucial to having a successful space walk.
Step 2. Rely on Teamwork
Teamwork is essential to survival, as European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano found out. He almost became the first astronaut to drown in space. The cooling unit in his spacesuit failed only 92 minutes into a six-and-a-half hour spacewalk outside the International Space Station (ISS). Without the aid of gravity, instead of falling into his boots, the zero-gravity liquid floated throughout his helmet, drenching his face, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth and shorted out his communication system.
Blinded, Parmitano was forced to grope his way back along the station’s exterior and into the safety of the airlock. Parmitano allowed his team to assess the situation and come to the best solution to keep him safe. He gestured with a thumbs up to indicate that he was okay, and the team found a way to safely remove him from his spacesuit.
Step 3. Have a Plan
If you begin to have a problem, stay calm and work out a plan of action in your head. Think about the worst-case scenario and how you would react. If your spacesuit is filling with water, perhaps you could adjust some of the valves.
Step 4. Gather Your Bearings
During a spacewalk outside the ISS, you may become disoriented, or your eyes could tear up, causing you to lose your bearings. It is important to not panic and rush back to the airlock. If you pause for a few breaths, chances are your focus will return, and you will be able to resume your work.
Step 5. Go Old School
It is possible your spacesuit communications will be cut off by an unforeseen problem. Remember, you can use hand gestures to communicate with your crew.
Step 6. Avoid Sharp Objects
When working outside the ISS, there are many items that an astronaut must be incredibly careful around. Even the slightest puncture could result in grave consequences, so remaining hyper-aware of your surroundings is key to surviving.
Remember, if you are on this space walk, you have been through extensive training to become an astronaut, so your odds of surviving a malfunctioning suit are pretty good. That is, unless your suit is malfunctioning while your rocket ship is crashing. Luckily, you can learn what to do right here on How to Survive.
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