Life and Death in Space

There’s not always a lot of interesting things to write about while I’m slogging my way through the drafting process, so I’ve decided create a feature that I will call Scenes from the Future, wherein I detail scenes that I wrote in the past but take place in the future. Make sense?

Pretty much, I just want to chat about something cool that I wrote, even if I’m not experiencing quantum shifts in my writing style as I was during planning and I presumably will again during revision. Scenes from the Future will also involve bits of worldbuilding and character description that will hopefully be interesting. If it’s not, well, I’ll notice the plummeting readership and decide to do something different.*

Approximately the first quarter of my novel takes place on or above the Moon, specifically in the colony of Brighton (thank you, Martin Schweiger). The main

So I have this scene where the main characters have just escaped a moon colony, but in the process of doing so have wrecked their cargo crawler. They’re just outside the base by a few meters, but they’ve completely fragged the airlock and they’re losing air. As hypoxia begins to set in, headaches and decreased awareness begin to plague our heroes.

Meanwhile, assistance is on the way. They had a ship in orbit the whole time, but due to a personality conflict between a main character and the rest of their crew, they weren’t really communicating. However, when the ship gets information that the MCs have been arrested, they decide to help. So a lander is on its way.

The lander reaches the crawler just as its air is running out. Seeing a ship landing (but not knowing who it is), the MCs use the crawler’s radio, a simple transponder, to step on the traffic control frequency and act as an emergency beacon. This guides the lander right to them.

There’s one final problem, though: the lander can’t mate its airlock with the crawler: there’s far too much debris about. So, what follows is a sequence reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey, wherein the MCs have to take a short walk through vacuum over the lunar surface and jump into the lander’s open airlock.

I did a bit of research on this. I think that most people know that humans won’t explode when exposed to vacuum, nor will their blood spontaneously boil. The real danger is decompression, wherein the lungs might be damaged by the sudden expansion of the air in them. In this case the MCs were in such low pressure to begin with that it wasn’t a real worry. Neither did they have to worry about freezing to death: vacuum is an excellent insulator.

The two biggest worries are severe edema of the skin, radiation exposure, and asphyxia. A human exposed to vacuum will have about 9-12 seconds of functional consciousness, which in this case is all that’s necessary. Radiation exposure isn’t the biggest deal in the future; a number of factors ameliorate its impact. And lastly, edema due to vacuum exposure is transient (though thoroughly painful). As long as total exposure lasts less than 60-90 seconds, a full recovery is likely.

I tremendously enjoyed writing this scene. It developed pretty organically and I felt that the resolution wasn’t too contrived. And as always, I enjoy showing off my research.

*I’m pretty sure my readership is low enough that it cannot ever, technically, plummet. I choose to view this in the most positive possible way.

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7 responses to “Life and Death in Space

  1. Heh, showing off research is always fun. I permanently have to resist the temptation, lest I shall be writing hard sf instead of science fantasy… 😛

    I do like to read what awesome stuff other people use in their works, though, and since far too little usually tends to make it on the page in a big way later on, well, that’s what blogs are for, huh?

    I hope you don’t mind if I help myself to some of your research… *hides under bed* 😉

    • Yeah, right now I just want to get the story on the page. If I show my research off now, I can always trim back the expository bits in the revision.

      It’s also worth noting that I didn’t explain in the story what I explained in the blog post. The viewpoint character wouldn’t even know the exact biological mechanisms during vacuum exposure, much be able to calmly analyze them at the time. Her exact feelings were more like OUCH OUCH OUCH.

      She did get somewhat dubious honors for being the first person to faceplant in the lunar dust without a suit on, though.

  2. It is kind of interestingly narratively how problems that seem small in perspective (move a few meters into an airlock) become big problems in space. In many ways space is the ultimate hostile environment, while being simultaneously full of nothing. It doesn’t have the same personal interest in harming you as, say, being in the middle of a bunch of hungry sharks, but it also can’t be fooled or reasoned with. It’ll just wreck your shit no matter who you are. Unless you’re a space octopus.

    • It’s interesting that you say that. Even though I didn’t plan it that way, a sort of motif has been popping up in my story that even though space is dangerous, the people who inhabit space with you tend to be more dangerous. If my main characters had been rescued by the people they were trying to escape instead of their own crew, it would’ve been a lot worse for them than just some freezer burn.

      • I guess it’s something you can turn around either way, either “space doesn’t want to kill you, but it’s still extremely dangerous” or “space is extremely dangerous, but at least it doesn’t want to kill you.”

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