In spite of what some sci-fi or horror movies would like you to believe, nothing of the gory outer space death scenes where a person has a faulty spacesuit will actually happen. One action-thriller that showcases these violent space deaths was the Sean Connery film Outland wherein multiple space suits got punctured. The hole in their spacesuits caused the astronauts to balloon up twice their normal size before exploding. In another film titled Total Recall, a person situated on Mars’ harsh environment without a spacesuit got his eyeballs sucked out due to the lack of oxygen.
Neither of the scenes mentioned above portrays what actually happens to a suit-less human in space. According to studies, the human body is adapted to the standard atmospheric pressure on Earth, which is 76 mm of mercury. Exposure to pressures lower than 47 mm of mercury will kill an astronaut. Once exposed to the environment in outer space, the water inside all tissues will turn to vapor, causing cells to collapse. In addition, there will be a loss of huge amounts of heat from the body. All in all, the astronaut would rather freeze to death and get suffocated from the lack of oxygen rather than explode in outer space.
How Do Space Suits Protect Us?
There are several requirements needed for a spacesuit to be functional, and one cannot be omitted when building or sewing a suit. The most obvious requirement is that the spacesuit must have enough supply of oxygen so that the wearer will be able to breathe properly, and it also must have a feature that removes carbon dioxide in the interior. The second requirement is that it needs to have a stable internal pressure, which means that it must replicate the normal or the lowest survivable atmospheric pressure on Earth in order for the wearer to not be affected by decompression sickness and also to allow him or her to move better in zero gravity. The third requirement is related to the Earth’s atmosphere as well, as the suit must have a normalized temperature in its interior to prevent the wearer from feeling too cold or too hot. In the fourth requirement, the suit must have a working and stable communication system so that the wearer can talk to fellow astronauts or the command center on Earth. The last requirement is that the suit must have a feature that enables it to collect bodily waste, whether solid or liquid, efficiently, and this is needed since the wearer may not be able to take off the spacesuit during the majority of the mission.
Contrary to popular belief that the only suit found in space is the bulky white one with a bowl-shaped helmet; however, there are really three types of suits that an astronaut must have inside the spaceship. The first suit type is the IVA or intravehicular activity suit, which is supposed to be worn inside the spacecraft. IVA suits are significantly lighter and less bulky than the standard spacesuit. The second type is the EVA or extravehicular activity, and this is probably the one that you often see in NASA footage and movie scenes in sci-fi movies. The third type, and arguably the most advanced, is the IEVA or intra/extravehicular activity. The IEVA suit is meant to be worn both inside the spacecraft and in outer space.
The IVA suits are sometimes known as soft suits because of the softer and smoother materials used to create it, although earlier designs of the EVA suits are also made of the same materials, such as the Apollo A7L spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. However, the softer materials don’t mean that the soft suits aren’t durable, as they are typically resistant to punctures or wear. EVAs were eventually modified to have stiffer and harder materials for extra durability. Most of the spacesuits that are being worn today are IEVA suits, as they are cost-efficient and are much more practical for the astronaut to have since they are versatile suits. However, the modern spacecraft would usually have extra IVA and EVA suits in case the primary IEVA suit gets damaged during a space mission. All types of space suits are still being modified and upgraded to improve their maneuverability and functionality.