unfettered hurls are common

Because not everyone is going to read Mary Roach’s “Packing for Mars” (but everyone should – she is the funniest science writer around), I’ll tell you what she taught me about vomiting in space


“With motion space sickness, the impulse to vomit can hit with unusual suddenness. Launch-pad workers stuff extra vomit bags in rookies’ pockets before lift-off, but even then, unfettered hurls are common. So what happens if you vomit in your helmet during a space-walk?


US space helmets have air channels directing flow down over the face at 17 cubic centimetres per minute so the vomit is blown down away from the face and into the body of the suit. There is an extremely remote potential for barf to get into the oxygen return duct. If it somehow did the crew member could shut down the fan and go on ‘purge’ while continuing to get fresh oxygen via his pressurised tank.


Vomit is a dangerous material to inhale for many reasons not least of which is that stomach acid is capable of digesting the lining of your lungs. so imagine getting it in your eyes. Barf bouncing off the helmet and back into your eyes would be really debilitating. That’s the more realistic danger with in-helmet regurgitation. That and the vision-obstructing visor splatter. Visor glop is a serious astronautical downer.


Some 50 to 70% of astronauts have suffered symptoms of space motion sickness. “That’s why you don’t see much shuttle news footage the first day or two. They’re all, like, throwing up in a corner somewhere.” says Mike Zolensky, NASA’s curator of cosmic dust. Zolensky himself was epically sick on a parabolic flight. The only passenger worse off was the one helping astronauts practice drawing blood in zero gravity. Since his arms were strapped down someone else had to hold the bag to his face.


Published in: on October 6, 2010 at 7:25 am  Comments (47)  
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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi sweetie! Whatever you do, don’t miss this!

    • That is FANTASTIC!!

  2. Thankyou. Went down well with my pre-dinner drink…:-)

    I heard a very funny story from a journalist who did a simulator training flight.When he asked if he should eat breakfast and, if so, what, was told: “Bananas. They taste about the same coming up as going down!”

  3. I’m glad to hear that the ventilation means it will be directed downwards… I doubt it would fend off a good “chuck it as far as you can” projectile vomit!

    • Oh god, I remember projectile vomit from when my kids were young. It’s a good thing I’m not a practicing nurse, I’m hopeless with upchuck

  4. Yes, but all the same meals were provided and their luggage didn’t wind up in Peru. Case closed.

    • Indeed. I don’t know what they had to complain about.

  5. I’d never thought about it until now but twice in the past week I’ve read about bodily functions in space. There was just an author who wrote a book about (among other things) shitting in space on The Daily Show.

    • Mary Roach covered shitting as well. She doesn’t shy away from bodily fluids 🙂

  6. Haven’t those blokes heard of chewing a mintie at take-off?

    • I thought that was to make your ears pop

  7. Here’s the question I’m sure we’ve all wondered: Has there ever been any zero-gravity sex? Would it even be possible? Don’t you need something to push against? Or could I spin you like a propeller?

    • I could give you the answer but then Mary Roach might come after me. Read the book 😉

      • spoilsport 😉

      • i know a couple of folks in the space program – and am aware of some undocumented experiments to determine the change in the size of an erection in zero gravity…

  8. I’ll be back…I am feeling a bit queasy after reading that.

  9. when scuba diving, you are instructed to puke into the regulator, rather than take it out. yum…

    i read “Stiff” and loved it. what’s not to like about a good stiff?

    • Another reason for me never to go skin diving. I’ll just wait on shore with the cocktails daisyfae

  10. so informative – thank you Nursey.

  11. Having just done research on balut then reading this I’m not feeling queasy. Not at all. ummm – gulp – oops – back soon!

    • Ah yes… balut. It made it to #1 on the 6 most terrifying foods of the world.

  12. Gravity is cool, but so is not having any. It’s getting used to not having any that’s obviously the hard part. I think the bottom line is, if we’re going to live in space, we’re going to have to do something about it. That’s why in SF, most of the huge space stations are big spinning wheels that simulate gravity with rotation. (Note: I’m sure this is obvious too, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say).

    Give me a barf bag, I’ll go!

  13. All the more reason to be solar-powered.

    I LOVE Savage Chickens. So silly.

  14. No wonder there are so few astronauts, it’s a job where you puke on yourself on a regular basis and wear diapers too. It’s not just a job, it’s a preview of what your elderly years will be like.

    • Yep. Affects your eyesight too.

      • Bugger! I thought you just went deaf!

  15. Sometimes I wish you supplied a sickbag or two with your posts

    • Sorry zmkc 😦

  16. Mary Roach is a keeper. Makes me me want to write pop science books…The vomiting metaphor is somehow also apt here.

  17. I’ve never heard of Mary Roach. I’m bummed! Do you have a favorite book of hers. Must get new book. Don’t have enough books. Must get new book.

    I’m seeing David Sedaris live on Oct 17th. He’s my favorite humorist (aside from Woody before he married his daughter).

    • I don’t think I have a favourite – everything she’s written is excellent. David Sedaris is great too!

      • Yep! Read Roach. Learn and laugh.

  18. I love Mary Roach.

    • Yeah. If I were still fertile I’d like to have her baby.

  19. OK, Daisyfae. What was the verdict? Do boners get bigger in space? Does the scrote swell, too? Does zero-g mske stiffies point straight up? I understand that G-forces lower sperm count–did your pals toss one off into a test tube for later analysis?

    • If I make her tell you will you start blogging again?

  20. I just love that “Vomit” is one of your tags.

  21. Space Spew- LOL

  22. “Visor glop”…what a visual. 🙂

  23. What about sex in space?

  24. Ewwwwwwww. I think the vomit blob is a syndrome in the air force as well. Apparently taking off at those high speeds of the fighters sends one’s dinner into avalanche. I heard an interview on NPR this week and she said no way on the sex in space – plenty of good bathroom stories however.

  25. Strangely I found that very interesting …… *looks worried*

  26. barf at the moon

  27. I just ate, thank you very much for this nurse.

  28. Coincidentally, I just started reading Mary Roach’s book Stiffs today! It’s about cadavers. You’re right – she’s hilarious. I love the way she looks at life. And death too.

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