Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Fun of Research - Not So Warm Bodies in Space

After watching Warm Bodies, muse smacked me in the head with a story that would not let go. For some reason it set itself in an asteroid field and on a mining facility. I don't know why. The story required the female MC knew something about androids to make it work, and with space station Venus Ascendant (Terms & Conditions Apply) involved, something set in space rather than planetside made a good fit. Don't ask me. Muse already knew where she was going with this. I just write.

Anyway, 7K in I realised this was going to need research. I'd skim read an article on ion drives being more efficient than chemical thrusters, so I pulled that in. An article on self healing skin from waaaay back got dredged up and added to the notes. I'd already used stuff on nanotechnology repair systems so that wasn't hard to include. But then I needed to know about what would happen to a body in vacuum.

We've seen the films, right? Total Recall (the Schwarzenegger version) and what happened to people exposed to the lack of Martian atmosphere? I remember an episode of Blake's Seven - no, make that two - where people shot out into space simply exploded.
But I doubted these were true. I researched explosions in space a while back after a fellow author complained over the special effects in Star Wars during the space battles. That led me to question anything I'd ever seen in films. And I do want to make my stories scientifically realistic as far as I can.

The wonders of the internet are you can find the information pretty much everything (and so no excuse for lack of research). Type in 'what happens to a body in vacuum' and one of my first results was an article by NASA. Which led me to believe the source was reputable and accurate, unlike a lot of things you can find on the 'net.

And it was fascinating! Did you know you can survive half a minute or more in vacuum without long term damage? I didn't until then. Of course, you pass out in a few seconds from lack of oxygen, which will probably be a blessing if you aren't rescued soon. You shouldn't try to hold your breath as it will damage your lungs, much as it would with scuba divers (something else I didn't know). You will die, most likely from lack of air than anything else. The moisture in your mouth and eyes would vaporize. Your blood would only boil after about 90 seconds of exposure when your blood pressure drops and your heart stops beating. You won't explode although some bloating would occur. You can suffer bad sunburn from exposure to ultraviolet light, but you won't freeze straight away - in fact, freezing would be your least concern. Your skin will go blue due to hypoxia. If you're rescued within 90 seconds and oxygen administered, you should fully recover. After that time, resuscitation isn't possible.

All these facts I devoured. This was proper science I could put in my story, and debunk some of the cinematic myths too. And the best thing? I'd actually already got most of it right by myself. True, my victim wasn't really human so I thought I could cheat on the biology side, but having actual scientific confirmation made my geeky little heart flutter. There's at least one thing I won't get picked at by the real science nerds. Well, I hope not...

BTW, since I also looked this up, a dead body in vacuum would not rot but become mummified due to the vaporizing of its moisture content. :P

If you're looking for reliable research sources, why not check out the new Research Lounge on this blog by clicking on the page tab below the blog banner. It's a great place to start!

Articles used in my research -
1. Human Body In A Vacuum (NASA)
2. What happens to the human body in a vacuum?
3. Outer Space Exposure
4. What happens to a dead body in space

Pippa's Journal

My monsters are back to school! Today is my first full day without them after seven weeks. Which means back to work for me. I need to tidy up my blog and website and page, get review hunting for Gethyon, check out dozens of tweets and emails about promotion...where do I start?! Plus the three short stories and one novella I've set myself to finish by the end of this year. Oh, boy...

Ping Pong
Donna, I hope you're feeling better now!


  1. Congrats on doing your research to make your stories more realistic, Pippa. I think a little bit of research and a liberal dose of imagination are ingredients for great SFR.

    Your premise sounds exciting. Can't wait to read it! (Hey, if you get a chance, check out the movie Outland with Sean Connery. It's about a mining colony on Io.)

  2. Thanks, Laurie!
    Oh, one of those articles mentioned Outland - I think because someone boiled or exploded inside their punctured spacesuit. But it sounds like some good background watching to help develop the feel for mine. :)

  3. Yes, death by "explosive decompression" which I think has since been debunked. It's a lawman in space tale, but very well done, even being from the early 80s. One of my faves from way back and worth a watch. You never know what elements might inspire you.


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