Here’s what happens if an astronaut’s helmet came off in space combat

astronaut helmet
Astronaut in Space. (NASA Identifier: S65-29766)

It’s highly unlikely that an astronaut would ever be engaged in combat during a spacewalk. American astronauts, Russian cosmonauts and Chinese taikonauts are scientists, engineers, and otherwise peaceful researchers who go into orbit for overwhelmingly positive reasons. But that doesn’t mean it will be that way forever. 

The United States has already stepped up its Space Force. The Russians have had a space force for years. China has been secretly testing all kinds of new weapons in orbit, to an end we aren’t really sure about. If it ever does come to American Space Force guardians and astronauts engaging in orbital combat, it will be the deadliest battlefield of all. Here’s why.

As if in a floating game of Goldeneye 007, every gun will be the golden gun because it will likely only require one hit to kill an opponent, who will die a very painful, horrifying death. Though that death will be relatively quick, it will seem like it’s just not fast enough. 

The first thing that will happen if a space warrior somehow loses the protection of a space suit or helmet is that their body will immediately be exposed to minus 170 degrees Fahrenheit, unless you happen to be in the sun, at which point the cold would be slightly better, but with a huge trade-off (more on that in a second). 

Then there’s the vacuum of space. After the sheer horror of having all the oxygen and air suddenly extracted from the lungs by force, the space medic will have about 15 seconds to come and repair the damage to the uniform and restore oxygen before the Space Force guardian loses all the oxygen in their bloodstream. That is assuming, the lungs aren’t ripped to shreds from the force. Once the oxygen is used up, they have about four minutes before the brain is permanently damaged. 

astronaut's helmet and space suit
NASA Space suits on display at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston.

That four minutes hardly matters, though, because about 40 seconds into experiencing the vacuum of space, the next experience will be cardiac arrest, which they very well might still be conscious for. The lucky ones will pass out within 20 seconds, and though that may not seem like a long time when one is swiping on Tinder, it seems like an eternity when space is trying to extract your blood through your ears (whose eardrums would definitely rupture). 

As for being in the sun’s warming glow, that might make the frigid temperatures a little better, but without the protective blanket of the Earth, those sunrays are dangerous. Even when wearing protective suits, NASA has deep concerns about the long-term effects of solar radiation on its astronauts. Solar radiation can affect every cell in the body. 

In the long run, this could mean cognitive impairment, cardiovascular problems and cancers associated with radiation are a risk, even in the best of conditions. It might even include a wicked tan. 

Sudden depressurization was the root cause of death for the only three men to die in space. The cosmonaut crew of the Russian Soyuz-11 spacecraft returned to earth after a communications blackout ended contact with the ground. When recovery teams arrived at the capsule, they found the three men dead, with dark-blue patches on their faces and trails of blood from their noses and ears. 

The Soyuz experienced a sudden depressurization at more than 100 miles above the Earth’s surface. Their official cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation, but cardiac arrest didn’t come until 40 seconds after the depressurization. One of the cosmonauts was found dead trying to fix the problem. 

So for anyone who might find themselves in orbital combat, perfection is important. Or maybe just give peace a chance.