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

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“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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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