Can You Skydive From The International Space Station?

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Science Insider
Published at : 04 Jan 2021
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While the sight from the International Space Station is a beautiful one, jumping off of it won't be. It will be a deadly journey for any astronaut who jumps off the ISS to reach Earth's surface.

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Following is the transcript of the video:

Most skydivers jump off a plane flying 3.8 km above the ground. But imagine jumping off something even higher, like the International Space Station.

Unless you have a supersuit like Tony Stark, it's not gonna end well. But let's pretend Iron Man lends you one.

Ok, ready? 3 … 2 … 1 … Jump! Wait … what?

That's right, you wouldn't fall straight down. In fact, it'll take you at least 2.5 years before you reach the surface. So what's going on?

Height isn't the main reason your fall takes so long. In fact, if you fell like a normal skydiver, it would only take about 2 hours.

But the thing is, you don't fall straight down. You fall into orbit. The reason is speed. You see, the ISS might be called a station, but it's hardly stationary.  It's actually moving 12 times faster than a jet fighter.

If you shot anything at that speed on Earth, by the time it was about to hit the ground, it would miss! In the same way, the ISS isn't floating in space, it's falling towards Earth and missing!

And when you jump off the ISS, you're initially moving at that same speed. So you end up in orbit, too — at least for a while.

Now, even though it's so high up, the ISS is pushing through a very thin atmosphere. And that friction slows it down. So the station fires engines to maintain speed and keep from crashing into the Earth.

But sadly your supersuit doesn't come with engines strapped to your feet. This has two consequences:

First, it means you can't maneuver and have to hope that any of those 13,000 chunks of space debris don't impale you. Second, without rockets to maintain your speed, you'll slow down and spiral toward Earth.

But it won't be quick. The Chinese space station Tiangong 1, for example, about 2 years to fall out of orbit. On the ISS, you're higher up, so you'll take roughly 2.5 years. But once you strike the atmosphere, your long wait is over. And it's go time.

As you re-enter, you have one goal: slow down. You're traveling at hypersonic speeds. So, if you deployed a parachute now, it'll shred to pieces.

And that's not the only problem. Falling through the atmosphere at such break-neck speeds generates a lot of pressure on your suit — at least 8Gs of force — that's 8 times the gravity you feel at sea level.

And if you're falling feet first, that'll push the blood away from your brain and toward your feet. So you'll probably pass out unless you're one of those fighter pilots who train to withstand up to 5Gs.

Now, if you don't pass out, you may worry about the freezing temperatures up here.  But, it turns out, your suit's more likely to melt than freeze. You know how you can warm your hands by rubbing them together?

Now imagine your supersuit rubbing against air molecules in the atmosphere at least 6 times the speed of sound. You'll heat up to about 1,650 ºC — hot enough to melt iron!

In fact, the heat is so intense, it strips electrons from their atoms forming a pink plasma around you that will ultimately destroy suit.

If that's not enough of a problem, the drag will rip off your limbs. But thankfully, Tony Stark has your back, and somehow, your supersuit holds with you intact.

At 41 km up you've now reached the world record for highest skydive. In 2014, Alan Eustace wore a pressurized space suit as he rode a balloon up to this height. He broke the sound barrier on his way down before deploying his parachute and landed about 15 minutes after the drop.

But you'll be falling much faster than Eustace — about 3 times the speed of sound. So, in reality, you're not going to slow down enough to safely deploy your chute. That's where Iron Man can help us one last time. By 1 km up you've reached the territory of ordinary skydivers who don't need fancy suits to survive.

And at this point, your parachute can do its thing.  And it's finally time to land softly.

Whew, what a ride! What sort of daring feat would you want us to try next? Let us know in the comments below. And thanks for watching.

A special thanks to Shawn R Brueshaber at Western Michigan University and Kunio Sayanagi at Hampton University for their help with this video.
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