In (real) Explosive Decompression
, if a pressure vessel's structure were to be compromised, all of the gas held inside would rush out until a state of equilibrium has been achieved (if this pressure vessel were in space, this would effectively mean all the gas would be blown out). Keep in mind that there's only 14psi between 1 atmosphere and vacuum. It would take a very large hole to produce actual explosive decompression. Consider an automobile tire at twice that pressure differential; if it gets a hole in it, the air leaks out. It does not
explosively decompress unless the structure of the tire fails completely (e.g. if it is overheated).
Not so in TV science fiction. If explosive decompression were to occur, a constant wind will appear and attempt to blow the entire contents out into space, and will only cease once the hole has been closed. This may even occur for several minutes, even if in real life the hole is big enough to allow all air to escape in a matter of seconds. And of course, the wind will always be just strong enough to make people's clothes flutter, but just weak enough not to actually blow them over — unless they have the unfortunate chance of being the bad guy
or a Red Shirt
, that is.
However, sometimes this trope is justified. When a hole is created in a realistically sized space station (~1 mile diameter), it would take about 19 windy minutes to achieve equilibrium (with the remaining air and the windspeed both decreasing exponentially, of course) - at least if the builders failed to put in any airtight doors
with which to seal the breached area.
The "remaining air" fact is also neglected in sci-fi. As the air leaks out, the air pressure inside decreases. The inside should become increasingly impossible for a human to operate in long
before all the air is out.
Anime and Manga
- The Gundam franchise uses this a lot. Sometimes it's justified (an Island 3 space colony holds around 1,600 cubic kilometers of air), and sometimes it's less so (The 08th MS Team has a room in a Magellan-class battleship decompressing for a ridiculous amount of time).
- Usually, the really worrisome holes in colonies are caused by mobile suits' nuclear reactors explodingnote ; some later machines use an adhesive spray to seal up smaller holes, and in Gundam F91 the bad guys have developed a weapon specifically to avoid causing a reactor detonation.
- During a segment of Legacy of ch'Rihan set in the aftermath of the Hobus supernova, a massive hull breach opens on the bridge of the IRW Albintian and the communications officer is sucked out before the emergency force fields can engage.
- Star Trek: Nemesis, when the Enterprise's bridge is blown open.
- Naturally, Galaxy Quest had to have this trope.
- Strangely enough, it was ALMOST justified: the room was being decompressed as a form of torture. The wind actually died down as the pressure started dropping too low, although it was going too slowly to cause THAT much wind, and didn't kick up again until they broke the seal into the still-pressurized hallway.
- There's also the part where the rock monster trashed a pack of the bad guys and ended it with busting clear through the wall of the ship; you see an external shot with a bunch of stuff flying off after them but no sign of that particular hallway afterward, so it's hard to tell if it's subverted or played straight.
- Both Alien: Resurrection and Goldfinger use a variant of this trope, where incredibly big people/aliens are blown out of incredibly small holes.
- It may be actually possible to perform this, as this video of a crab being sucked entirely through a hole many times smaller than itself demonstrates. Also related, the MythBusters squeezing a meat dummy into a diver helmet merely by removing its internal air pressure. Scary, scary stuff that may provide a basis for this in reality, though movies are frequently known to exaggerate those well beyond realism.
- In the original novel for Goldfinger, James Bond deliberately caused it (while in the film it is an accident), supposedly having been inspired by a real-life event.
- During a Dream Sequence in Apollo 13, the door on the capsule opens during transit to the moon. The astronauts cling to the capsule against the wind for much longer than it would take to let all of the air out. (But then, it was a nightmare).
- A pressure dome on Mars breaks in the original Total Recall (1990) and the resulting storm is enough to pick people up and fling them through the hole. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has to cling to a railing as if he was inside a tornado.
- An inversion and aversion can be found in The Abyss. When an entire windshield of a minisub at the bottom of the ocean cracks as it uncontrollably descends into the abyss it implodes immediately. When there is a small crack in the hull of another minisub at its normal operating depth, it slowly fills with water, albeit higher than the level of the crack.
- It continues filling to a higher level than the crack because it won't stop filling until the air left inside the sub is at the same pressure as the water — i.e., a few hundred atmospheres.
- But the air is already at the same pressure as the seawater outside—the drilling rig is under the same high pressure, hence the use of the "moon pool" for coming and going. It's why Lindsey and the soldiers took eight hours to equalize pressure before leaving the sub.
- After Crow breaches the hull in the pre-movie segment of Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie, the entire room starts uncontrollably decompressing until Tom Servo is sucked into the hole - and is just wide enough to plug it up, as it so happens. Immediately after, Mike pulls him out and casually puts Crow's WWI helmet over the hole.
- Snakes on a Plane: When Agent Flynn shoots out a window, the compression is powerful enough to destroy part of the wall, and lasts long enough to suck every single snake out of the plane.
- The sci-fi B-Movie Missile to the Moon ends with the Lady Land society being destroyed this way.
- Played realistically in Gravity. A female astronaut has to open an airlock quickly to take shelter from an oncoming cloud of space debris; the hatch slams open from the sudden outrush of air, nearly breaking her grip on the handle.
- World War Z has a scene where a grenade is set off in an airplane, during an outbreak of zombies so it really was the best idea at the time, the resulting hole manages to suck out everybody but the two characters that threw the grenade and strapped in. The plane crashes as a result of this, but the film does at least show one of the engines was damaged in the explosion.
- Played quite realistically in the Robert A. Heinlein book Farmer in the Sky. During the trip to Ganymede, a bit of space junk penetrates the hull of the Mayflower in the dorm compartment where the protagonist and twenty other boys happen to be staying. The hole is explicitly only the size of his fist, and after the automatic failsafes seal off the compartment (locking the boys into the decompressing room), he's able to plug it with one of their foam-rubber pillows.
- In Conspiracies, a gateway into another dimension opens up in a basement and starts sucking in everything around it, air included. The effects are portrayed realistically, right up to a character shackled near the gateway feeling his eardrums suffer as the air pressure drops, then recover when the windows break and new air is drawn into the cellar.
- Usually played realistically in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The atmosphere leaves a little craft pretty much instantly. In Solo Command a flagship's viewport is blown out, and there are a few moments where surviving crew can try to crawl to safety before the bridge is automatically sealed to prevent total atmosphere loss. A space station in Galaxy of Fear takes a minute before it's totally vacuum.
- When someone shoots a hole in the hull of Star of Empire, in Galaxy of Fear, atmosphere starts venting. Someone manages to plug the hole with something larger, keeping it there via air pressure, but the characters know it isn't sealed and after escaping the room they have it sealed off.
- Justified in The Atrocity Archive, where the sucking hole is a hole in reality, working on sucking Earth's entire atmosphere through an interdimensional portal to an alternate Earth where the atmosphere has frozen solid after the Jotunheimr sucked all the heat out of its home universe.
- Star Trek is a big offender of this, especially in the modern series.
- But averted in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation: when Geordi and Dr. Crusher depressurize a cargo bay to (a) put out a plasma fire and (b) get rid of some hazardous material, the wind lasted only a very short time. After that, the trick was repressurizing the bay before they passed out from anoxia. Although Dr. Crusher gave horrible advice by telling Geordi to hold his breath. In reality, holding your breath in vacuum would rupture your lungs. The right advice is to hyperventilate in advance to superoxygenate your bloodstream (which the two are seen doing), then exhale fully when decompression occurs.
- TNG actually used this as a solution to the problem of the week twice. In one episode, when stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop that ended in their deaths by way of spaceship collision, the solution was to vent the shuttlebay and push themselves backward. In another, it was used to try to force an alien lifeform to stop feeding on the ship, which failed.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine did something similar in "Covenant". Dukat opens an airlock to kill a Bajoran woman. While the decompression lasts far longer than it should for a roughly 3 cubic meter room, it does cut off before the door finishes opening, leaving her to suffocate on the floor.
- In Star Trek: Enterprise, TNG's magic force field that lets ships go through but not air has not been invented, so when a bad guy takes his leave while Archer is still in the shuttle bay, he must deal with this. However, more realistically than most examples (including other Star Trek examples), the fact that there's less and less air and pressure in the open shuttle bay every second is very much a problem.
- Averted in Battlestar Galactica, where explosive decompression actually behaves like it should.
- Done in Fringe. A saboteur on a Zeppelin is sucked out of a hole ripped in the canvas outer hull near the keel. Anyone who knows anything about airships would tell you that Zeppelins are not pressurized in the first place (high-altitude War Zeppelins in World War One used oxygen canisters and thick furs instead), and indeed it would be nearly impossible to do so for an entire Zeppelin airship, or even just the passenger decks, which on that type of aircraft are MASSIVE. Of course, the Zeppelin was an LSD-induced hallucination, but still. Olivia's airship knowledge sucks.
- It goes further than that. Either the writers or Olivia seriously slipped up on that scene. The entire point of decompression is that there is a meaningful pressure differential inside and outside. The Zeppelin was flying at a few thousand feet, tops. And it's not like the speed could have helped at all; there exists only one airship in the entire world today that is capable of traveling faster than 100 mph. This is Fringe, though. It's best not to look too deep into that show's fuzzy science.
- Not averted in Ron Moore's pilot movie Virtuality, though — in fact, this is one of the worst examples of all. A character is caught inside a small airlock when the outer hatch opens, and is buffeted by a huge torrent of wind for a couple of minutes before the other characters can shut the door. Where was all the replacement air coming from???
- Happens in the 1970s Doctor Who story The Mutants.
- And in an earlier Who story The Moonbase, which also features the subtrope of characters struggling to seal the hole as the air rushes out. One fan actually did the calculations to see how long it should have actually taken for decompression to happen. The results were something on the order of a few seconds. The scene in the episode lasted much longer, obviously.
- In the Doctor Who story Enlightenment, Turlough is locked in a small chamber when the protective force field is deactivated letting the air escape to space. It takes several minutes for the doctor to find Turlough, during which time it is still slowly evacuating though the hole is quite large and the room is quite small. Ironically it is also an example of Explosive Decompression, since when Turlough is rescued, he says "I would have exploded in the vacuum of space."
- When a plane is ripped opened in the third season of Heroes, air is continually sucked out of the plane until it crashes about ten minutes later. (Probably due to the turbulence from the incredible windspeed outside the craft.)
- In the Firefly episode "Out of Gas", Mal used this to put out a fire in Serenity's engine room. This is much more plausible because a fire merely needs to run out of oxygen to go out, and sealing/venting the room will help the fire use up all the oxygen, putting it out before it can damage too much equipment. Chemical fire retardants (e.g. the stuff in the red canisters and the stuff used for chemical fires) actually smother fires to put them out in real life, too!
- In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Jayne shoots out the viewport of an energy net-equipped space station to kill the crew and save the ship.
- Jayne does it to kill the crew of the station. He explicitly asks Mal earlier if Mal wants him to shoot the window and Mal says it'd kill some folk, but wouldn't save the ship - so after Jayne saves the ship by shooting the arc projectors, he shoots the window to kill the people responsible for them.
- In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Prometheus", Jack uses this to kill Col. Simmons.
- The "remaining air" part is often ignored in the live-action marionette series, Thunderbirds, most notably in The Vault of Death where the worker trapped inside would certainly have died from anoxia long before he could be rescued if not for Fictional Physics which dictate that a person doesn't die until all the air runs out.
- In the Supernatural episode "Phantom Traveler" (S01, Ep04), there is a continuous wind after the airplane door is opened by a demon.
- Opening an airlock in Dead Space will cause a few seconds of windy turbulence (that's not how airlocks work!) but later an entire deck has its atmosphere vented into space with a minimum of fuss.
- While it can be understandable that internal doors to damaged sections might leak air, this also happens with doors designed to lead into space. The fact that Isaac and Kendra are hacking the doors and the damage to the ship might explain some things.
- There are fragile windows in Dead Space 2 that when broken will suck enemies out into space and Isaac will be dragged along....before being crushed by a door closing.
- The Halo series averts this, with the games depicting airlocks cycling realistically, and the books at least not mentioning a wind when decompression is involved.
- The final challenge in Conkers Bad Fur Day features Conker in a life-or-death battle with a xenomorph-like alien on a spaceship (long story). Near the start of the fight, Conker has to blow the airlock, producing a constant state of decompression as air keeps rushing out. This decompression lasts the entire battle, no matter how long it takes (and even if you pull it off quickly, it's still more than a bit absurd), and has to use said decompression to throw the alien out. The ship's onboard computer helpfully reminds him of this fact.
- Justified in in Portal 2. When Chell opens a portal on the moon, there is a continuous decompression effect until the portal is shut. Spaceships and the like may have a limited volume of air, but this portal has to equalize the pressure of an entire planetary atmosphere. Sucking away this much air takes lots of time—far, far more time than the portal is open for.
- Averted in Space Station 13, which has a relatively realistic atmospheric model (which, of course, is almost never used).
- In the iOS game Star Command, a powerful hit near the outer hull of your ship will, most likely, result in a hull breach. As long as your Deflector Shields are down, the air will appear to be rushing out. However, none of your crew will suffer any ill effects as long as they're not near the hole. Anyone near the hole will get instantly sucked out into space. This includes enemy boarding parties that beam in at intervals when your shields are down.
- Played completely straight in Sonic Adventure 2, during most of the many missions aboard the ARK, certain portions of the space station can be blown out and you yourself can be sucked into the void... and not one mention goes to what would happen if you just stood there... waiting for the air to be sucked out of the entire station.
- One of the first tasks in Mission Critical is to repair a hole in one of the quarters leading out into space as a result from the battle in the intro. The hole is fairly small and easy to fix. When you enter the room, you see a horizontal twister of sorts but don't actually suffer any ill effects. In fact, this is one of the Take Your Time "critical" tasks.
- In Warframe, shooting out windows on Corpus ships will cause this, with the effect being air rushing out, and out, and out... and everyone and everything remaining planted to the floor. There are armored bulkheads that can seal off the leaks, but the player has to manually activate them.
- Schlock Mercenary has it fairly realistically here, where an accident blows a 300 meter hole in the side of Credomar, a cylindrical station-cum-Death Ray measuring 6 kilometers by 60.
- Futurama was probably parodying Star Trek when they did this.
- This happens in one episode of The Jetsons where George winds up traveling with a circus troupe. George accidentally plugs up the hole with his butt all the way until the ship lands, including during re-entry.