Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quick Takes - "Star Wars" space slug science

Giant exogorth HUNGRY!

"Star Wars" is probably my favorite movie franchise ever. And, like any good human being, "Empire Strikes Back" is my favorite film of the series. But I started to wonder the other day after watching "Empire" for the 9,362nd time, when everyone climbs out of the Millennium Falcon after Han buries it deep within a large asteroid (space slug) to avoid capture by Imperial TIE Fighters, the only thing between Han & Co. and the vacuum of space is a little breathing mask and a handful of jagged teeth. The mask would be great for getting oxygen into their lungs, but it wouldn't help the rest of their bodies, which would most certainly be impacted by the vacuum, right? Was there some sort of habitable atmosphere inside the belly of the slug? Was that atmosphere a collection of byproduct gases from its digestive system, or was it somehow created by the heat generated by the multi-hearted internal structure of the slug fighting against the cold of space? And where did the minocs come from? Did they live inside the slug? It was certainly a large slug, a single tooth the size of an entire spaceship, so I suppose it could provide some sort of livable ecosystem inside its body, a pressurized cabin and a normalized temperature to sustain life, if you will, and something miniscule like a minoc would be the equivalent of a small, unnoticeable bacteria in our own bodies. But I've been really struggling to come up with some answers for that moment.

And that's why NASA exists, to help answer some of those tough questions. According to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, unprotected exposure to the vacuum of space for a short period of time is survivable: "If you don't try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you'll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts -- and animal experiments confirm -- that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness." And the crew of the Falcon, at the very least, had a steady flow of oxygen from their masks and some sort of atmosphere generated by the internal workings of the toothed gastropod (oh yes, I went there). So they were one step above a pure vacuum, let's call it a "near vacuum."

NASA knows about those, too: "At NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now renamed Johnson Space Center) we had a test subject accidentally exposed to a near vacuum (less than 1 psi) in an incident involving a leaking space suit in a vacuum chamber back in '65. He remained conscious for about 14 seconds, which is about the time it takes for O2 deprived blood to go from the lungs to the brain. The suit probably did not reach a hard vacuum, and we began repressurizing the chamber within 15 seconds. The subject regained consciousness at around 15,000 feet equivalent altitude. The subject later reported that he could feel and hear the air leaking out, and his last conscious memory was of the water on his tongue beginning to boil."

Whoa. So, if the boiling point of water drops to below body temperature in the vacuum of space, why wouldn't the water on their exposed eyes boil, or the water within any exposed orifice boil? As my good friend Hickey, of Bathroom Science fame, says, "[That] only suggests that there was pressure." Indeed, Hickey. Indeed.

  • Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was fined, take a deep breath everyone, $500,000 by the NBA for violating the "league's censure on speaking publicly about the lockout," an extraordinary move from Commissioner Palpatine to regain control over the owners and the largest fine ever handed down in the NBA. Arison's violation was a couple harmless posts on Twitter, one washing his hands to an outraged fan talking trash to him about his involvement in the lockout, and an "lol" response to a fan asking Arison what he thought of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. That's got to be the most expensive "lol" in human history, unless you count Kim Kardashian's wedding.
  • Did Tony La Russa just screw the Cardinals? After winning the World Series last week, Tony La Russa announced his retirement from baseball. As many people know, soon-to-be-free-agent Albert Pujols was extremely close to La Russa, and is now demanding to know what the Cardinals plan to do at manager before even considering re-signing with the club this winter. Can anyone say player-coach?
  • In the NHL, New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella didn't take kindly to San Jose Sharks captain Joe Thornton calling his team "soft." Tortorella responded with a totally NHL comment: "Joe's a heck of a player, but here's a player popping off about our team, and Joe hasn't won a goddamn thing in this league. He could go down as a player, being one of the better players in our league never to win anything. So what he should do is just shut up. It was uncalled for, it was classless, and I've never had it happen like that before." Yes! Perfect! I appreciate honesty in sports more than anything, because it's so freaking rare to hear someone speak honestly and avoid easy cliches to brush off reporters. That being said, if David Stern ran the NHL, John Tortorella would've been water-boarded for that.
  • The Big East is desperately trying to expand to keep up with the rest of the NCAA, inviting six teams to join the conference. One of those teams, Boise State ... from Idaho ... alllllll the way on the other side of the country, is being invited for football only. People on the east coast sure are foggy about geography.
  • I listen to ESPN Radio in the morning as I drive to work, and I'm always amazed by the incessant advertising that's not-so-subtly slid into conversation. The promo for the "p90x transformative moment," where the hosts interrupt talking about sports to exclaim that p90x will allow you to "look good on Sunday and tailgate with a clear conscience," is clearly not targeted at regular men. It's targeted at men who go tanning before a game to get a good bronze, who think, "Gosh, I hope the rest of the guys like my sleeveless Seahawks tankini," not regular men who couldn't give two shits about how they look for an NFL game. Think about this! P90x thinks that men who go to football games, tailgate, dress up, etc. are worried about how they look. Has p90x ever seen a crowd at an NFL game? Did they forget to do market research before writing their ad copy? And, furthermore! Men do not eat food guiltily, especially when it's barbequed.
  • My boss, a die-hard Broncos fan, asked me, "What do you call it when they mix a tragedy and a comedy together?" My response: Tim Tebow.

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