Imagine tumbling away from your station, knowing that you will not be able to get back, that no one can save you and that you will ultimately float way to your death, on your own, maybe staring at your planet, the planet from which you came from.
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The idea of floating away into the darkness of space, is a terrifying thought, a thought that would definitely cross every astronaut’s mind while spacewalking. This kind of situation is normally seen depicted on the big screen, in movies like Gravity.
But what would happen if you really did float off into space?
Well Space agency’s like NASA do have safety protocols to prevent float away astronaut situations from happening. When an astronaut steps outside of the international space station, for example, they are attached to the spacecraft at all times with a retractable 26-meter braided steel tether, which has a tensile strength of 1,100 pounds. But If this strong tether was to fail, the astronauts can then engage the “SAFER”. (Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue).It is a small, emergency jet pack system, worn during a spacewalk and provides free-flying mobility to return to the space station. If however the “Safer” failed or the astronaut wearing it was unconscious and could not operate the jet pack, then the only hope would be that the other members of the space station could start a rescue mission. But this rescue effort would be tricky, as there is currently no spacecraft that could be used to retrieve the float away astronaut. So if the tether snapped, the jet pack malfunctioned and your astronaut space buddies failed to rescue you, then you would float off in the direction according to whatever forces were acting on you when you broke loose. You would be completely weightless, potentially spinning and no amount of kicking or doggy paddling would save you. The Earths gravity would trap you in an orbit around the planet and if your spacesuit was still sealed, you would have to experience this terrifying fate for up to 8 hours, as you wait for your oxygen supplies to run out.
However If your suit had become damaged during the incident that caused you to float away, your trip into space would be massively cut short. Exposure to outer space would cause you to become unconscious within 15 seconds, Your blood and other fluids would boil and then freeze because there is no air pressure. Your boiling fluids would cause your body would swell up, perhaps to twice the normal size and all this would happen within a few minutes.
However, If you floated away from your station at the right angle and velocity then you might even be set for a collision course with Earth, but you wouldn’t make it anywhere near the surface because the Earth’s atmosphere would cause you to burn up on entry, just like a falling meteor. Thankfully Nobody currently has ever had to experience this terrifying fate of being afloat away astronaut and even though there have been some close calls in the past, the astronaut’s safety equipment has prevented a situation like this from happening. Agency’s like NASA are confident that a float away astronaut will not happen and I for one, hope they are right.