How long can you survive in the vacuum of space?

By | June 14, 2008

The short answer is, of course, not long. But your build, age and general level of cardiovascular health could make a small difference in how long you’d get to relish the unique experience.

A new calculator will estimate you how long you’d last. It is unclear exactly how the tool calculates survival times, or whether it’s in any way accurate. I tested the survey with a few variations. A person with uber-thin Nicole Richie’s build might make it 54 seconds. But a moderately healthy person weighing more than 250 pounds could hold out for 1 minute, 47 seconds.

Of course, you’ll probably lose consciousness long before your body fails. Over the years, a number of people have had close brushes with the conditions of a vacuum. In 1965, for example, one unlucky spacesuit tester donned a leaky suit, according to NASA apocrypha. When he woke up, he said his last memory was of the sensation of water boiling on his tongue (water can boil at lower temperatures when the ambient pressure is reduced).

I once heard physicist Freeman Dyson predict that plants and animals may one day adapt to living in a vacuum, a jump he said would be about as easy as the evolutionary transition from breathing in water to breathing in air. Maybe – but it seems like not breathing at all would be exceedingly tricky. –ns

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