Introduction
Oxygen
Temperatures
Food

Life Support and Survival Systems for Astronauts

Life support and survival systems are essential to space exploration. The human body absolutely cannot live more than a few minutes unprotected in space. Once a body is exposed to an empty vacuum and decompresses, several phenomenon occur. First, the water in the exposed subject begins to boil and vaporize. This causes many problems. The vaporization of water occurs because liquid boils at lower temperatures at lower pressures and at higher temperatures at higher temperatures. An explanation for the drop in pressure is Boyle's gas law volume and pressure are inversely proportional. When an astronaut's suit or vessel hull is punctured, gas flows outward to equalize with limitless space. Pressure drops to absolute zero if the hole is not closed off very quickly. As water in the body continues to vaporize it expands very quickly. This causes the body to enlarge and bloat. Yet, the body does not explode as film makers and science fiction writers would like to you to believe. This rapid expansion of gas causes several unfortunate events. The increase in arterial pressure stops the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain effectively causing unconsciousness in under half a minute. Rapid water and gas expansion in the lungs can cause instant bursting. In the off chance you are ever sucked out into space do not try to hold your breath. This could prevent your lungs from exploding instantly. The lack of pressure causes liquids to boil off into vapor. Survivors of decompression report feeling the moisture on their tongue and lining of the mouth boiling. The lack of external and internal pressure causes involuntary urination, vomit, and defecation. Fortunately, victims of rapid decompression can recover fully if they are pressurized within a matter of minutes. Rapid decompression is very similar to drowning in that the time needed for rescue and the main dangers consisting of a lack of oxygen to the brain and stress to heart are very similar. If a victim can be re-pressurized quickly, they will most likely be able to recover in a few days.

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Besides the threat of rapid decompression, the human in space must also face ultraviolet radiation, varying frequencies of radiation, microwaves, and extreme cold. Space on average is approximately -455 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if a human is exposed to space, rapid decompression will kill them before the cold will. Even if the human body is pressurized and protected from these elements, it will not live long without the basic necessities of food, water, shelter, and warmth. Because of these unique and challenging conditions, engineers and scientists around the world have developed life support and survival systems essential to preserving life in space. Over the years they have continued to became smaller, more efficient, and more dependable. Space exploration is relatively young and has come a long way in forty years. It will continue to advance with proper support, research, and funding. Living and surviving in space will become less and less of a challenge with innovative technology.
 

Copyright Devonshire Schools Space Project 2009