Why trapping somebody in space only takes a breeze

Mar 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Howell, Universe Today
The crew members of Expedition 40/41 pose in front of a Soyuz spacecraft simulator in Star City, Russia. From left, Alex Gerst (European Space Agency), Max Suraev (Roscosmos) and Reid Wiseman (NASA). Credit: NASA

Imagine that you were in the middle of a module on the International Space Station. Floating in mid-air, far from handholds or any way to propel yourself. Is there any way to get out of that situation?

The short answer is not easily, and the longer answer is it could be an effective way to trap criminals in space, joked veteran cosmonaut Maxim Suraev in a press conference today (March 18) for the upcoming Expedition 40/41 mission, which also includes rookies Alex Gerst and Reid Wiseman.

Speaking in Russian, Suraev explained that during his last 2010 mission, he had crew members set him up in the middle of the station's Node 3. "It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won't be able to move because you have nothing to bear against," he said in remarks translated into English.

That said, the ventilation system on station does tend to push objects (and people) towards the vents after a time, he observed. What if you had multiple vents set up, however?

"I thought that if ever we have a permanent human habitation in space, this would be the best way to keep a person confined—like in a prison—in the middle of the room, where he or she could not move anywhere," Suraev continued. "Being in limbo, as you will. The only thing that is required is a large room, a person and several fans blowing in different directions to keep the person in the middle of the room. That's scary, trust me!"

There's no fear on Suraev's part that it will happen with his crewmates, however. "My new crew, they're really good guys and I'm really looking forward to being with my new crew in space, and to spend five and a half months aboard the space station," he said in an English phone interview after the press conference. (Good news given that Suraev will assume command of Expedition 41.)

European Space Agency astronaut Alex Gerst during training prior to Expedition 40/41 in 2014. Credit: European Space Agency

The crew (who lifts off in May) will have an action-packed mission. It will include the arrival of the last Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and—if NASA fixes on a spacesuit leak allow—two American maintenance spacewalks. There also are 162 experiments to perform (this according to Gerst) and if there's time, checking out our home planet.

"Earth observation was not one of the primary goals that [station] was designed for," he cautioned in a phone interview, but he added that one of its strengths is there are people on board the orbiting laboratory that can fill in the gaps for other missions.

Gerst (who was a volcano researcher before becoming an astronaut) pointed out that if a volcano erupts, a typical Earth satellite would look straight down at it. Astronauts can swing around in the Cupola and get different views quickly, which could allow scientists to measure things such as the volcano plume height.

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman does spacewalk training in a partial gravity simulator ahead of his Expedition 40/41 flight in 2014. Credit: NASA

Another example of flexibility: The Expedition 39 crew right now is (news reports say) helping out with the search for the missing Malaysian Airline Flight 370.

"We're really good at capturing things quickly and then sending the  pictures down to the ground," Gerst said.

Wiseman, as one of the rookies on mission, says he is interested in comparing the experience to his multi-month Navy missions at sea. It's all a matter of mindset, he said in a phone interview. He once was assigned to a naval voyage that was expected to be at sea for six months. Then they were instructed it would be 10 months, leading to fistfights and other problems on board, he recalled.

Russian cosmonaut Maxim Surayev during a spacewalk in January 2010 for Expedition 22. Credit: NASA

Astronauts for the forthcoming one-year mission to station, he pointed out, will launch with different expectations than someone expecting about a six-month stay. "If you know you're up there for one year, you're going to pace yourself for one year," he said.

But there still will be sacrifices, as Wiseman has two daughters (five years old and eight years old). He's asking the older child to do a bit of social media, and the younger one to draw pictures that could be included in the "care packages" astronauts receive from Earth. "It's going to be tough not to see them on a daily basis. They grow so fast," he said.

Other things to watch for on this mission include the arrival of the station's first 3-D printer, setup of an alloy furnace to make new materials in microgravity, and a potential Wiseman-led "come out and wave campaign" that would encourage families to go outside and tweet about the as they watch it.

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User comments : 17

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TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Mar 19, 2014
Well humans come equipped with their own reaction mass in various forms, the expulsion of which could be used to impart a minuscule momentum. Inhaling slowly and then exhaling forcefully should also enable one to eventually reach something solid.
FineStructureConstant
2 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2014
I just tried that in my living room here - IT JUST DOESN'T WORK!

If you actually read the article, a SPACE EXPERT said "It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won't be able to move because you have nothing to bear against,". And you think you know better than a SPACE EXPERT?

Did you actually READ the article? I DON'T THINK SO!!!
Skepticus
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2014
Ghost has the right idea, using expelled air as a jet. A few caveats though. One, you must be floating in breathable air, helmet removed if you are in spacesuit. Two, air currents and microgravity variations are not in such a way that it will push you to an untenable place.
FSC, i respectfully suggest you stay in your living room and brushing up on high school physics, especially on rotation, momentum and Newton's 3rd Law. And find a room with zero G, or if you are now (!) then blow harder..:-)). Then try to post again without the caps.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2014
As long as the air vents are stronger than anything you can expell (or have a longer time than you can expell anything before you reach any kind of handhold) - no dice.

A number of ways I could see that might work to get you ot of such a situation:
1) Take off all your clothes. Wad them into a ball. Throw them as hard as you can.
2) Take off your shirt. Rip it up or unravel it so you get some string. Fashion any kind of hook and try to throw that anywhere where it will stick (grills of the vents?). Or use any kind of bodily substance that will stick. As you don't need much force to move yourself once you have the line attached anywhere the arrangemen can be quite flimsy
3) try to get into a configuration (by using your clothes again) so that the vents will spin you up. Quickly change the configuration so that all your angular momentum is used to push just one way (this is pretty tricky - but as long as atmosphere is persent it is doable as that gives you something to push against)
Skepticus
5 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2014
I think i'll stick a pair of robustly-made folding fans in a handy location on my belt/suit at all time. Then i can flap around like a bird. And cool myself down with them when I am done.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2014
I just tried that in my living room here - IT JUST DOESN'T WORK!

If you actually read the article, a SPACE EXPERT said "It is true that you can twist as much as a contortionist, but you won't be able to move because you have nothing to bear against,". And you think you know better than a SPACE EXPERT?

Did you actually READ the article? I DON'T THINK SO!!!
Combustion can be employed to produce additional thrust.
http://youtu.be/pcMQ1FQiby0
FineStructureConstant
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2014
Oh! You can't get out of it THAT EASILY! You MADE A MISTAKE and you post some INANE video in order to DEFLECT ATTENTION away from your BOOBOO!!!

Get your facts right. READ THE ARTICLE.

And anyway, in the absence of any other forces, microgravity will ensure you get to the other side. Eventually - you just have to float and drift. Or point a torch or laser-pointer in one direction, and rocket off in the other direction. Or use a magnet to pull you across. Job done, back in time for tea and muffins.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Mar 20, 2014
And anyway, in the absence of any other forces, microgravity will ensure you get to the other side
But what if you don't want to go to that side? Humans like to be in control of their destiny and this is where motive forces like lighted farts and projectile vomiting come in handy.

I am sure there are corresponding vids for the latter option but I am reluctant to post them. There may even be field study from the vomit comet. Perhaps a paper.
FineStructureConstant
1 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2014
"But what if you don't want to go to that side?"


It might just be your destiny... And surely the very many people subject to iniquitous social and economic forces impelling them into lives of poverty and destitution may also be wishing that they were in control of their destinies. Fat chance they have, regardless of how much they throw at this or the other wall.

But getting back to our hapless prisoner in the space station cell/hall - I was wondering whether, if he/she were to spin in a direction opposite to the spin of the station, GR frame-dragging might not bring them to one wall or the other? Perhaps Skepticus could help us out on this one?
russell_russell
not rated yet Mar 22, 2014
Hmmm.
http://en.wikiped...y_effect
The last paragraph:

Despite these difficulties, utilizing the Yarkovsky effect is one scenario under investigation to alter the course of potentially Earth-impacting near-Earth asteroids. Possible asteroid deflection strategies include "painting" the surface of the asteroid or focusing solar radiation onto the asteroid to alter the intensity of the Yarkovsky effect and so alter the orbit of the asteroid away from a collision with Earth.

Perhaps this:
http://en.wikiped...diometer
is the key to the prisoncell labeled space.
An single isolated vane will move in space.
russell_russell
not rated yet Mar 22, 2014
Remove the bulb encasing a light mill and place the light mill in space.
This is low budget research.
big_hairy_jimbo
5 / 5 (1) Mar 22, 2014
Well I'd get out my own personal rocket (my penis), and urinate as hard as I could in the same direction. This would impart enough force to get moving!! Ohh and it has thrust vertoring too.

As for FineStructureConstant, I laughed my head off when you had a go at Ghost!! Ghost is bang on the money, and you FSC really do need to review physics. Think about how a rocket actually works. Remember they aren't pushing off anything, it's momentum they are ejecting, and conservation laws do the rest!!
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2014
Oh lordy, it seems irony (or do I mean sarcasm?) is lost on most of you... Of course he's bang on the money, anybody with an ounce of knowledge of fizzicks would know that. It's just that Ghost's so often slagging other people off for getting little details wrong in their posts, I thought I'd have a go at him using his own shouty style. Credit to the guy, he didn't rise to the bait.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 23, 2014
Well I'd get out my own personal rocket (my penis), and urinate as hard as I could in the same direction.

Which is a point to consider: While it would be possible to get food to a free floating 'prisoner' what do you do about bodily wastes? Do you just keep him floating and have him shit/piss himself forever? That doesn't seem like a very viable prison-cell strategy.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2014
Oh lordy, it seems irony (or do I mean sarcasm?) is lost on most of you... Of course he's bang on the money, anybody with an ounce of knowledge of fizzicks would know that. It's just that Ghost's so often slagging other people off for getting little details wrong in their posts, I thought I'd have a go at him using his own shouty style. Credit to the guy, he didn't rise to the bait.
Hey I thought of another one - you could cut off your foot and throw it. You don't actually need feet in space.
FineStructureConstant
5 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2014
You don't actually need feet in space.
'Coz it's all metric, right?

dbsi
not rated yet Mar 25, 2014
Twist and shout. If fully suited up but NOT in a vacuum. Twist to steer and assume that your suit does radiate the pressure waves anisotropic.