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<   No. 2038   2008-08-25   >

Comic #2038

1 {scene: interior of a cramped space capsule}
1 [caption]: Two days into the mission:
1 Loren: Ishmael, give the oxygen tanks a stir.
1 Ishmael: Aye, cap'n!
2 [sound]: Fwackoom!
3 Ishmael: What happened?!
3 Loren: We're leaking oxygen!
3 Ishmael: That's not good.
4 Loren: And Coca Cola.
4 Ishmael: We're going to die!!!!

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I was thinking about this, and realised there would be immense problems with carbonated drinks in space.

Without gravity, the bubbles wouldn't rise to a surface and dissipate into the atmosphere. As more and more bubbles are formed by nucleation of the dissolved carbon dioxide, the entire drink would become "foamier" and try to expand in all directions. As long as the drink is sealed in a can, you're okay, but as soon as you pop it to have a drink, the liquid is going to foam up and begin expanding uncontrollably.

It turns out that Coca Cola has actually been taken into space, on Shuttle mission STS-15-F in 1985. Both the Coca Cola and Pepsi companies designed special cans for use in zero gravity. The crew deemed the experiment a complete failure, because of the interactions of the carbonation with the lack of gravity - as I'd speculated on already.

A further complication, even if you can solve the storage and drinking problems, is that large quantities of gas would be released in the stomach of the drinker. On Earth, we all know what that means: burping. In free-fall, however, the contents of your stomach aren't layered by gravity into liquid with gas rising to the top, where it can be ejected through the oesophagus. This has caused problems for astronauts on many occasions (see last paragraph), even without adding carbonated drinks into the equation. Start drinking fizzy drinks, and you're going to have the mother of all stomach bloating.

2020-02-08 Rerun commentary: That second panel is slightly more dramatic than might have been called for. Imagine how great the scene in Apollo 13 would have been if they'd done it this way!

I always wonder why, really, astronauts wear space suits when doing stuff with the controls of the spacecraft. Sure, if something goes wrong and the air blows out of a hole in the hull or something, they have the suits on and can survive for a while. But is it really going to be long enough to do anything like return to Earth and land the ship? Or is it just going to be enough for them to contemplate their inevitable deaths for another half hour?

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My comics: Irregular Webcomic! | Darths & Droids | Eavesdropper | Planet of Hats | The Dinosaur Whiteboard | mezzacotta
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