A question was asked on another stackexchange site:

This is not nice perspective, but eventually it will happen. An astronaut falls out of spaceship because of damage caused by collision with other object, or because of suit decontamination. The fluids from the body would evaporate, and if any bacteria would survive, than only as spores. Does it mean the perfect mummification of the body? Or there will be some decay, caused by enzymes from damaged cells, for example?

Given that the water in the body will outgass taking with it much of the rest of the body, are there any cited sources that specify the pressure at which proteins, fats and bones will break down and become vapour?


1 Answer 1


You're talking about the human body being exposed to outer space and asking about what would happen to it's internal structure. Bones, fats and proteins are within the enclosed system that is the human body, they are not subjected to the low pressures of space. The answer to the pressure at which proteins, fats and bones will break down and become vapour is not related to the answer to what would happen to them in the human body if the body is exposed to the vacuum of space. Nevertheless, I'll try to provide both answers.

The answer to the second question (short-term) can be found on NASA's website at "ask an astrophysicist". It's actually quite surprising for someone used to sci-fi movies:

You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.

The question you linked talks about "decay", or the effects of long time exposure. That's hard to predict, but at some point the body would be attracted by a planet and collide and you wouldn't have anything to boil anymore. Now to the chemistry part of it:

There isn't much (if any) data on the boiling point or vapor pressure of the compounds you're asking - it's hard to reproduce and it's more a curiosity than anything else. So let's talk about what would happen if you have fat, bones and proteins directly exposed to outer space pressures and temperatures, which seems to be your point anyway. Temperatures in space go from -270°C (in outer space, unexposed to sunlight) to +120°C (near the earth, exposed to sunlight). Since you're asking about boiling point let's talk about what will happen at the highest temperature.

Let's start with the easier part - the bones. It is safe to assume that the inorganic components will be tougher than the organic ones. The inorganic part of bones is mostly a specific type of apatite, which is a rock. It can be found in moon rocks. It will not boil. So at least the inorganic part of the bone would remain somewhat intact.

Fat is made of triglycerides. It'll probably break down to glycerol and the correspondent acid. Then it would decompose and boil.

Proteins denature at harsh conditions, you'll be left with amino acids at some point. It's hard to tell what would happen since there isn't much data on it, but given the harsh conditions, which include exposure to all sorts of radiations, the amino acids certainly wouldn't last long and at some point you'd be left with more basic molecules that don't resemble a protein anymore. So what can we conclude? Exposed as a whole, the internal structure of the human body would remain somewhat intact for a while (physically speaking). It's hard to predict what happens then, but given that the outer space is such a hostile environment, it's unlikely that the body would last long. Exposed as individual components they would last much, much less. From bones, fat and proteins, it's likely that only the bones stand a chance.


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