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Old July 6th, 2014, 11:50 PM
Carlobrand Carlobrand is offline
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Default Rapid decompression

You're a steward aboard a free trader. You are inbound from jump to a little frontier outpost of a world, not one of the Captain's better decisions but you don't get much of a say in such things. You are serving drinks in the lounge to your few passengers, the landing some 5 hours off, when a brilliant flash and wave of heat fill the lounge. There is a sudden howling sound, wind where there should be no wind, klaxons sounding and strobes going off to warn of dropping air pressure, and the passengers cry out and gasp in alarm - there is a hole in the exterior wall large enough to put your fist through. And then the Captain announces battle stations.

So, how long do you have before the air's gone?

I don't know if there's a canon example of being in this situation, but there's this interesting site, discusses vacuum exposure and - in this instance - the formulae to calculate just how long you have.

http://www.geoffreylandis.com/higgins.html

For those of us who are weaker in math, the interesting bit is at the end; they run the numbers for a 10 cubic meter space with a 1 square centimeter hole in the wall, for a drop from 1 atmosphere to 0.5 atmosphere, which is about the point where people start passing out (unless you flood the area with O2 to buy them a little more time). Ends up being 344 seconds, and the equation is such that we can scale up for larger spaces and/or larger holes.

Passenger section on the venerable Free Trader, based on that Starship Operator's Manual deck plan, is about 24 dTons - 6 staterooms and their associated common areas and such. 324 cubic meters. Not all of that's free air - there's the between-deck machine spaces, the furniture, and all that stuff. Let's say we have about 3/4 of that as air space: 243 cubic meters. Assuming a 1 cm hole, we have 8359 seconds. For this example, we're going to say our hole is 100 square centimeters - handily enough to put your fist through. That sound workable for a 250 megawatt laser or a 15 cm HEAP missile hitting a Striker-armor-40 hull? Might be smaller, might be larger, but it's a starting point. End result: everyone has about 84 seconds to get out of there or get into rescue balls. Say a minute and a half.

Could be shorter, could be longer depending on the actual size of the hole. If we assume every stateroom has a rescue ball handy and there are several also in the lounge, the passengers should need no more than 15-20 seconds to get to one and close up - maybe 30 if they spend a few seconds being shocked and wondering how to react. Assuming the hole is readily apparent, there's also plenty of time for the steward to slap something over it, but it's a little short if the hole happens to be in an unoccupied room and they have to spend time finding it.

Now, it would be helpful to have the steward able to move about, try to find and patch the hole or help panicky passengers. He needs air, and he needs a way to protect his body so that he can breathe. However, protecting the body alone serves no use unless he can act - and there's this weird thing in vacuum where your exposed body swells up. Same site, another page:

"his right hand was twice the normal size... He tried to release some of his equipment prior to landing, but was not able to as his right hand was still in great pain. He hit the ground 13 min. 45 sec. after leaving Excelsior. Three hours after landing his swollen hand and his circulation were back to normal."

http://www.geoffreylandis.com/vacuum.html

(about halfway down)

MegaTrav has a "body pressure suit". TL 10, can be worn under clothes, serves as protection against vacuum if worn with a vacuum belt and with gloves and helmet. My thought is to make this required shipboard equipment for certain on-duty positions - the steward (so he can aid passengers in an emergency), the pilot and the engineer. Or maybe the medic, the pilot and engineer would be better. It's a bit pricey, Cr15,000 plus another Cr250 for a 20-minute air kit, but seems like a good idea for the ship's locker. Either that, or just one of these for the steward (or medic) and a regulation requiring one pilot and one engineer in vac suits but for helmet and gloves - they can throw those on quick if a hole takes air from the bridge or engine room.
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