Follow TV Tropes


Explosive Decompression

Go To
"Sudden decompression sucks."

In most fiction, outer space is not friendly. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to step into it unprotected (or unfortunate enough to get Thrown Out the Airlock): they'll pop like a turkey with a grenade stuffed inside.

Well, that's the movie version. The reality is quite different. As unfriendly as the vacuum of space is, the body's made of stern enough stuff to stay in one piece. When you step outside, you've got about 15 seconds before you pass out from anoxianote , a couple of minutes at best until you die from the same, and all sorts of nasty decompression injuries in between (exposed areas swelling up, body fluids boiling off your surfaces). But, you never quite go boom: remember, technically speaking, your blood is not in a vacuum: it's in you, so swelling and boiling blood only occurs toward your squishiest, outermost layer of capillaries.

Incidentally, holding your breath would be worse than useless; the difference in pressure would cause a serious and fatal embolism even from the smallest amount of air in the lungs resulting in death even if someone manages to rescue you. Though this isn't the bottom line. Pulmonary barotrauma (lung rupture) is possible, but not guaranteed. It is far less likely if the decompression occurs slower than about half a second, which is quite common in sci-fi.

Good luck getting all of this across to most audiences, though. As one of the great classics of Hollywood Science, the belief in explosive decompression is so widespread that audiences are more outraged when it doesn't happen (see The Coconut Effect and Reality Is Unrealistic).

That said, an explosive decompression can happen in real life if you get a really high-pressure gradient - from far above-normal pressure down to atmospheric pressure, say. Or, to be more precise, at least 7 or 8 atm (atmospheres), with 1 atm being normal atmospheric pressure. These pressure gradients are usually only found in decompression chambers meant to allow deep-sea divers to return to the surface without contracting the bends. These chambers are only slightly less dangerous than the alternative of having the divers spend hours underwater as they ascend very slowly. If you're interested, google the "Byford Dolphin" incident - but beware of Nausea Fuel. Most space missions never come close to this, though, as they generally use pressures of 1 atm or less. To get an idea of how low that is: a soda can is pressurized at about 2 to 3 atmospheres above ambient pressure.

The term "Explosive Decompression" is also legitimate, but it refers to the speed at which the decompression occurs, not the result or cause. There has only been one recorded incident of explosive decompression aboard spacecraft that killed the crew, and numerous cases of explosive decompression on aircraft (several of which led to crashes). But while it certainly can cause part of the airplane to explode (due to whatever fault caused the decompression in the first place), the usual result for passengers is either slow hypoxia, or if they are really unlucky a chance to go skydiving without a parachute.

Discussed in detail here.

See Space Is Cold for another way that space doesn't instantly kill you. See also Continuous Decompression for how Hollywood Science handles actual Explosive Decompression.hint 

A really unlucky character might suffer Fold-Spindle Mutilation as they're blown into space, then undergo Explosive Decompression.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, Gremmy Thoumeaux uses his Imagination-Based Superpower to form a pocket of outer space around Kenpachi Zaraki. Kenpachi screams in silent agony as his lungs start to burst and his eyes almost pop out of his head... then being Kenpachi, simply flies out of the pocket and slashes at Gremmy.
  • Averted in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Heavy Metal Queen" when Spike transfers between ships using only earplugs for protection and a couple gunshots to adjust his trajectory. However, this aversion includes the common mistake of holding a deep breath, which in reality would cause serious lung damage as the depressurized air expands beyond lung capacity.
  • Averted a few times in Gundam: in Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Asemu jumps from mech to mech through vacuum without a suit but is unharmed by the few seconds of exposure to vacuum. In Mobile Suit Victory Gundam, Usso does the same thing (while naked, no less). In his case, Haro generates a bubble around him for some meager protection, and he briefly passes out afterward.
    • Oddly deconstructed in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. In the first episode, one of Heero's suicide attempts consists of him detonating a charge on his spacesuit. While it blows a hole in his spacesuit, it doesn't actually hurt him. The problem: he was already on Earth, on a beach. So the whole point of using that charge—to vent his spacesuit—was defeated.
  • Averted in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean. The Stand known as Jumpin' Jack Flash is able to generate zero-gravity and near-vacuum space, but the heroes aren't in danger of rupturing from the environment. The real danger is their blood pooling around and boiling away in the vacuum.

    Comic Books 
  • An issue of Justice League of America showed Batman deliberately exposing himself to the hard vacuum of space (while in a controlled chamber in the JLA's base on the moon), exploring his physical endurance limits, or else preparing himself for the eventuality of it actually happening one day (with Batman, either is likely). The artwork was realistic in showing the effects the vacuum was having on his physical body, but he still lasted a lot longer than a normal human would've, even one in the peak of physical condition.
  • Narrowly averted in Legends of Zita the Spacegirl. Zita is in a flimsy glass escape capsule, which inconveniently loses its method of propulsion and cracks up, leaving them afloat in space. The character is rescued by a conveniently-arranged Deus ex Machina but is shown holding their breath beforehand. According to Arthur C. Clarke that's not the wisest thing to do in that situation.
  • In Scud the Disposable Assassin, the evil British Shakespearean actor astronaut werewolf undergoes this trope while in a stable orbit over earth. Since he is immortal, his body instantly reconstitutes itself only to explode again...and again, and again ad infinitum.
  • Shakara: An alien scientist confronts the Overlord of The Hierarchy to report that according to his calculations, the Infinity Engine is drawing in way too much power to be an interdimensional portal and looks more like it is actually a weapon that will wipe out every living thing in reality. The Overlord muses that his own species is so resilient that it can easily withstand the vacuum of space. He then drops the forcefield of the room-with-a-spaceview that they're in, causing the scientist's head to explode immediately.
  • Transformers: The Reign of Starscream #2 shows Starscream capturing a human and then putting him in his cockpit for the return trip to Cybertron. Since Cybertronians don't breathe and don't need pilots, they don't pressurize their altmodes' operator spaces. The poor human pops when Starscream leaves the atmosphere.
  • An old Weird Science story had people vanishing instantly when tossed into space. Weird science indeed...
  • One demented Green Lantern comic in the Bronze Age of Comics (#162, 1983) had a villain trap Hal Jordan, a Girl of the Storyline and some kid on a spaceship with Hal missing his Power Battery and no charge in his ring. The kid finds what he thought was an exit, but was actually the airlock and he's tossed out into space by the villain. Hal and the girl can only watch as the boy gruesomely inflates and pops like a balloon.

    Fan Works 
  • In Squirrelking's Halo: Halos in Space, when the back door of Joe Chief's ship is blown open, one of the army guys falls out and explodes in space.
    Then another one closed it and said "NOOOOO HE WAS MY BROTHER!" and then got tired and slept."
  • Rocketship Voyager. Captain Janeway is in a spaceship's docking bay when the Dilating Door to the outside starts to open; she knows not to hold her breath and instead hyperventilates to saturate her blood with oxygen. Fortunately B'Elanna Torres quickly arrives on the scene to shove her into a decompression shelter-balloon. A short time later Janeway has to step out into the vacuum wearing only an oxygen mask, and her fingers start to swell up as the fluids in her body start boiling. B'Elanna quickly shoves her back into the airlock and seals the hatch behind them.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Superman vs. the Elite, this is what Superman claims happened to Coldcast after launching him into orbit at Mach 7. Emphasis on claimed.
    Superman: He went into orbit at Mach 7. If you had super-hearing, any second you'd hear the "pop".
  • Averted in Titan A.E., in which during a Moment of Awesome, Korso and Cale escape from a smashed escape pod by using a fire extinguisher to propel themselves through space to the safety of Korso's ship. Korso specifically instructs Cale to exhale before leaving the pod. The writing staff did their homework on this one. Unfortunately, this edit apparently came too late for the animators who drew the scene with both Korso and Cale simply holding their breath.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Partially averted in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Dave Bowman has to reenter his ship through the airlock he realizes that he has left behind his spacesuit's helmet. After blowing himself out of his pod into the open airlock he has several seconds of workable consciousness until he can throw a valve to pressurize the airlock again. He apparently suffers no ill effects, though it appears that he attempted to force all possible air out of his lungs.note 
    • However the only mistake was on Clarke's part, since Dave Bowman can be absolute unmistakably seen just before blowing the hatch, either forcefully evacuating his lungs— or his bowels.
  • Ad Astra plays this trope straight when the main character kills the last space baboon that broke free and killed the personnel of a Norwegian space station by depressurizing the compartment he trapped the baboon in, causing the murderous primate to instantly pop like a blood-filled balloon.
  • Used in a different fashion to the usual in the film Alien: Resurrection, where the Newborn is killed by using acidic blood to melt a relatively small hole in the viewing port behind it; the pressure first pins the xenomorph/human hybrid against the wall, and then the continued pressure difference... well, it blows the Newborn through the hole... over a relatively long time-period, while the vacuum from a relatively small hole seems to hold him pinned to it (despite that in the prior film Aliens, Ripley is able to avoid being blown into space just by locking her arm on a ladder-rung, and actually climb out).
  • Averted in Danger: Diabolik. Mob boss Valmont shoots his gun inside his tiny jetliner, putting a good-sized hole in it. One of his Mooks casually takes his gum and covers it up.
  • Downplayed in Doomsday Machine. During an attempted rape the airlock is unlocked by accident due to an easily pressed button and rapist and victim are killed. They float around as their eyes start bleeding but their heads don't explode.
  • Event Horizon:
    • A possessed member of the crew attempts suicide by ejecting himself out the airlock. He doesn't explode, but the whole thing is portrayed very messily. To the film's credit, he needs a lot of medical attention when he's eventually returned to breathable atmosphere. His small blood vessels rupture in the decompression, resulting in hemorrhage from his cavities. It's pretty realistic, though whether there'd be quite that much blood is anybody's guess. The dialog during the event even has the Captain telling the young crew member to blow all the air out of his lungs just before the doors open to prevent the pressure difference from damaging his respiratory system.
    • Defied when the crew first explores the bridge of the Event Horizon. There is a corpse floating around in zero-gravity with all sorts of nasty-looking injuries that very much resemble the purposeful, patterned gashes Doctor Weir will have during the film's climax, and one of the walls looks like it had several people smashed against it so hard they impacted with a splash instead of a thud. Immediately, one of the crew cites explosive decompression as a possible cause, and another shoots it down just as fast; "Decompression doesn't do that."
  • Averted in Gravity. Ryan is startled to see a Not Quite Dead Kowalski outside the Soyuz hatch, which he opens even though she's not wearing her helmet, blowing out all the air but leaving her unharmed once he closes the hatch and raises the oxygen levels. Turns out it's All Just a Dream anyway.
  • Averted in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): when Peter takes off his breather mask in space in order to rescue Gamora, his face swells slightly, his eyes turn bloodshot and his skin gets slowly covered in frost.
    • He seems to get away with fewer decompression injuries than he should, shrugging about 1 minute of exposure off after maybe 20 seconds back in an atmosphere, but then again he is later stated to only be half-human, his daddy being something "very ancient" and unknown to the Nova Empire, so it may be his unusual genetics give him higher resilience.
  • A realistic example happens in Interstellar, when Dr. Mann opens the inner door of an improperly sealed airlock.
  • James Bond:
    • The finale of Goldfinger has the window of a private jet shot out and the title character sucked through the opening. Interestingly, despite the window being the only apparent damage to the plane, it enters an unrecoverable dive, forcing 007 and the Bond Girl to parachute to safety.
    • Averted in another James Bond film, Moonraker, which had Bond expel the villain out an airlock. He seemed to freeze quickly but didn't explode. Considering how thoroughly the laws of physics were violated in the movie, it was surprising that they didn't go with that trope as well, though the Squick potential might have been a factor.
      Dr. Goodhead: Where's Drax?
      Bond: Oh, he had to fly.
    • Licence to Kill features a "Byford Dolphin" style decompression involving a henchman, a decompression chamber and an axe. This one gets frequently trimmed by the local Media Watchdog.
      Perez: What about the money (that was also in the chamber), padron?
      Sanchez: Launder it.
    • Happens again in Die Another Day on board Gustav Graves' aircraft, after a gun struggle causes a window to be shot out.note 
  • Leprechaun 4: In Space: This is how the Leprechaun is defeated. The explosion however is clearly just reused footage of Dr. Mittenhand's death with a green filter.
  • Averted in Mission to Mars: Commander Woody Blake sacrifices himself on the way to Mars by taking off his spacesuit's helmet, and then he just kind of turns purple and dies. However, it does play Space Is Cold straight by having him insta-freeze.
  • The 1981 movie Outland seemed to center around this trope, seeming to dwell on who would explode next. In the film, two professional assassins that are sent on Jupiter's moon Io to kill off the main character O'Niel, who has discovered an illegal drug operation (which results in the explosive death of a worker in the opening scene, and two more during the investigation). Both die due to Explosive Decompression: one paints a duct red when O'Niel depressurizes it (after an amusing "ballooning up" shot), the other dies when he is led into shooting glass windows in the room he's in. We're then treated to a scene in which his body explosively shatters after the air rushing out blows him into space. This happens in a manner of seconds, even though the room appears to be hundreds of feet in every direction, and the hole is relatively small. There's also the problem that the outer windows of a space base are weak enough to be shattered by a shotgun blast from a great distance.
    • Explosive Decompression happened frequently in this movie, which opened with an anonymous character exploding inside his space-suit; the same occurs to another character later on. Another is exposed more slowly in a space-elevator and is afterward shown simply with his guts exploded.... so it seems the film tried to preserve some realism.
  • Averted in Supernova when Karl Larson sends the corpse of a man he just murdered out of a casualty chute. The body gets accelerated by a puff of gas but simply flies off into space without so much as even expanding.
  • Total Recall (1990): In real life, Mars has a mean atmospheric pressure of 600 pascals. Humans are used to a pressure of 101,300 pascals. In the movie, where being exposed to the surface of Mars gives characters eyes the size of tangerines, the pressure is apparently at -100,000 pascals.note  Even more ludicrous: after returning to "normal" pressure, those tangerine eyes go back to normal, with no ill effects— they aren't even bloodshot. This is explained if you accept the interpretation that most of the movie is occurring in the character's head, and simply reflects his faulty beliefs on how this would work in real life.
  • Seen in U.S. Marshals when a fellow prisoner tries to kill the soon-to-be fugitive aboard a Marshals transport plane. His shot goes through one of the airplane windows, resulting in a rapidly widening hole in the fuselage through which several people on board are sucked out, and ultimately causing the plane to crash.
  • Watchmen averted this when Laurie was teleported to Mars by Dr. Manhattan. She was simply unable to breathe and fell to her knees gasping before Manhattan provided her with an Earth-like atmosphere. Although, in this case, some of the effects of sudden decompression should have been present; they were either ignored or Manhattan fixed them when he created the atmosphere.

  • Played straight in the novelization of The Black Hole, when besides being remarked explosive decompression is a messy way to die, Reinhardt suffers that fate as the control tower of the "Cygnus" is torn free from the ship, his eyes being described as bulging from sudden decompression.
  • Partial aversion in Ciaphas Cain: Death or Glory, which is a little odd for the usually pretty soft-science 40k setting. Cain and Jurgen end up in hard vacuum after a hull breach but don't pop, and Amberley Vail's footnotes point the popping body out as a myth. However, Cain holds his breath in vacuum and doesn't suffer lung injuries.
  • In "The Cold Equations", the young woman found stowed away inside of the EDS fearfully describes what she knows will happen to her if she's jettisoned through the airlock. Although it isn't a tremendously accurate picture of what would happen to someone stuck in the vacuum without a spacesuit, it certainly is a disturbing one.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • Discussed and averted in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Taking of Planet 5. The Doctor survives the vacuum of space just fine — he does, however, have temperature, cosmic radiation, and the bends to worry about.
    • Played straight in the New Adventurews novel Lucifer Rising, where a man explodes into pink snow when he can't fully close his helmet before the Space Elevator he's in ruptures.
  • The Executioner. A Discussed Trope in "Sicilian Slaughter" when Mack Bolan is flying on a private jet. The pilot tells him that at most you would simply pass out until he flew the plane to a lower altitude, and the odds of being sucked out of the plane because a window broke are a million-to-one. Bolan makes a Side Bet that he's wrong, goes into the passenger compartment and shoots out the window next to the Mafia Honey Trap who tried Slipping a Mickey into his drink. The pilot loses the bet.
  • Charles Sheffield's The McAndrew Chronicles offers what seems like a realistic aversion in the Sturm Invocation, a training protocol that, when activated with a special whistle, invokes an involuntary reaction of quick blinks to preserve your eyesight plus other adaptations that allow one to stay in vacuum just long enough to cross a short distance (from one ship to another) and get to safety. The penalties for false activations are very severe. Notably, blinking is inverted — instead of eyes open most of the time your eyes are closed most of the time. This has nothing to do with pressure but is designed to prevent eye damage from excess UV radiation.
  • Larry Niven's works tend to invert the trope, making vacuum relatively easy to deal with, usually by not having the pressure drop from 'normal' to hard vacuum in a fraction of a second unless the hole is pretty damn huge. In one short story, a ship's atmosphere escapes, when the crew are suited but not helmeted. They survive easily because they have stashed the helmets within arm's reach; the only harm they suffer is annoyance since they can't eat real food until they can get air and take the helmets off.
  • In the Priscilla Hutchins novel Chindi, a poor pilot's lungs explode instantly after his spaceship's hull suffers a major breach. Downplayed later when Hutch is at risk of drowning when she throws up in her spacesuit while Dramatic Space Drifting. Her spacesuit is just a personal forcefield, so her rescuer turns it off for a moment (causing the air to erupt out of her lungs, clearing her airways) then switches it back on again.
  • In the 1935 The Red Peri by Stanley G. Weinbaum, the hero is captured by a Space Pirate Girl and held on her base on Pluto. She makes sure he doesn't get his hands on a spacesuit, but he later kidnaps her and is able to run to his spacecraft which is parked a thousand feet away in a vacuum. He then explains that people exploding in space is a myth. The Pirate Girl later uses this knowledge in her escape; when her own spacecraft turns up to rescue her, she jumps from one airlock to the other without a spacesuit. Arthur C. Clarke was inspired by the story to include this trope in several of his own stories, including 2001.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog game book Zone Rangers, Sonic and Tails can, depending on the player's choices, get Thrown Out the Airlock of a space station. If they neglected to finish putting on their space suits earlier, the story jarringly ends with them suffering explosive decompression; though the narrator refuses to elaborate and simply states that You Do Not Want To Know.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • It doesn't actually happen in the X-Wing Series, but after the bridge of his capital ship is breached, General Solo reflects that if the crew can't get into a pressurized area before the bridge is sealed off, they're going to experience the "joys of explosive decompression". To be fair, he might not actually know how people in space die.
    • One would imagine many space-folks — especially the danger-chasing type — would not wish to learn.
    • An early book shows he does indeed know, from personal experience. In The Paradise Snare he remembers having to clean up after someone cycled the airlock to kill themselves, and it was apparently quite messy. So the trope is played straight there.
    • Later on in the Star Wars timeline, his daughter Jaina Solo witnesses the aftermath of a Yuuzhan Vong attack. Mention of explosively-decompressed bodies is made. Although maybe they just suffered the side effects of being on an exploding ship.
    • In Spectre of the Past by Timothy Zhan, Luke "cold-shirts" (spacewalking without a pressure suit) from an exploding pirate base to a rescue ship. He uses a Jedi hibernation trance to minimize the damage, and dialogue implies that, if the ship had been able to get closer, he wouldn't have even needed to do that.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 1000 Ways to Die reenacted a (probable) Real Life example note  where someone accidentally opened a decompression chamber with a scuba diver inside. The chamber went from several atmospheres to one in a split second, and the unfortunate occupant exploded all over the walls.
  • Dr. Franklin on Babylon 5 mentions this trope — or rather, how it presumably plays out in Real Life — in regards to an incident in his childhood when one of his friends got spaced by accident.
    Dr. Franklin: The one thing they never tell you is that you don't die instantly in vacuum. He just hung there, against the black, like a puppet with his strings all tangled up — or like one of those old cartoons where you run off the edge of a cliff and your legs keep going. You could see that he was trying to breathe, but there was nothing. And one thing I remember when they pulled in his body — his eyes were frozen. [long pause] A lot of people make jokes about spacing somebody, about shoving somebody out an airlock. I don't think it's funny. Never will.
  • Averted in Battlestar Galactica in an episode in which two characters are briefly exposed to space, but survive, albeit it takes them many episodes to recover.
  • Averted in Blake's 7 where several characters apparently explode after being teleported into space, but it is explicitly explained the first time it happens that this is not a pressure explosion but the result of teleporters being incapable of reassembling you properly if you get teleported beyond the safe range. ("Their atoms would be scattered to the solar winds" — poetically put.) On the occasions when a character actually went out of an airlock instead of being teleported into space, there is no indication they explode and in the first case, the body was clearly shown floating away intact.
    • One exception is in "Warlord". A Bad Boss blows his minion out the airlock, and there's a shot of his face stretching as he dies.
  • An unusual non-sci-fi example, an episode of Castle deals with a victim of the week who dies from this. Much of the humour of the episode derives from Castle's belief that the victim must have been in space while Beckett's more down to earth about it. It turns out to have been a vacuum-packing machine.
  • Cowboy Bebop (2021). Implied with 'Mad Pierrot' LeFou who goes flying off a Baby Planet into space whereupon his chest expands enough to break his bandolier of grenades, causing them to rain down on top of Spike.
  • Mentioned, though not shown, in Defying Gravity, an otherwise good show — disappointing, really.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The series generally has a good track record for averting the trope. Katarina and Kirksen in "The Daleks' Master Plan" and Varan in "The Mutants" are examples of characters whose bodies floated intact in deep space.
    • In "The Ice Warriors", the leader of the titular monsters tortures the Doctor by trapping him in an airlock and drawing the atmosphere out of it. The Doctor, seemingly seriously, screams that he's going to explode. Maybe Time Lords are more fragile to decompression than humans?
      • Apparently not, given that during the Peter Davison era and again in the Eleventh Doctor story "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe", the Doctor is exposed to the full vacuum of space and withstands it, no ill effects. That said, it's possible the Doctor had never had this happen to him at the time of "The Ice Warriors" and as such wasn't sure what would happen.
    • Averted in "The Impossible Planet"; Scootie is launched into space (by Satan, sort of) when the section of the base she's in gets shattered, and her body is still completely intact; though a) this is a family-friendly show, so there was never going to be anything too gruesome, and b) her corpse is getting pulled into a black hole (hence the episode title, as said planet maintains a steady orbit around said black hole), so will likely result in "Implosive Compression" before long.
    • Averted in great detail in "Oxygen", which opens with the Doctor describing the physical effects of vacuum exposure. Later in the episode, Bill is exposed to the vacuum of space and loses consciousness in fifteen seconds, but does not explode.
  • Farscape references this in "Dream a Little Dream" when Zhaan has a nightmare about Crichton floating in space, his spacesuit visor cracking, and his head going pop, Outland-style. However, the series otherwise averts the trope on repeated occasions in which characters are shown exposed to vacuum with no explosive consequences. By the start of Season 4, D'Argo, Rygel, Noranti and Crichton had all been exposed to space, with Crichton actually surviving exposure for a minute-and-a-half wearing nothing more than street clothes (occurs during the "Look at the Princess" trilogy). Though the actual length of his vacuum exposure is uncertain, given that the scene was in Slow Motion.
    • In The Peacekeeper Wars, D'Argo and Chiana end up with their ship blown up and them exposed to space. D'Argo's survival is explainable as it's been mentioned that Luxan physiology can survive space exposure for up to a few minutes; Chiana is a Nebari, though, and the ability of Nebari to survive in space is undocumented.
  • Averted in a non-space example on Haven. In season 4's "Crush," the Troubled brothers of the week are deep sea divers, and their Trouble causes a pressure bubble around them when they're stressed as though they were several thousand feet below sea level. Nothing explodes, though several things do implode, hence the episode name. The first victim of the pressure bubble dies when his lungs collapse and is found with his eardrums ruptured, which are real things that could happen with enough underwater pressure. Vince and Dave both get the bends after being caught in the bubble, and then being immediately brought to the "surface" when it dissipates. They display realistic, if exaggerated, symptoms and are treated by being put in a decompression chamber.
  • Implied (then averted) in an episode of Knight Rider: The evil KARR starts to drain the air out of his cabin with a hostage inside, saying "Have you ever seen someone explode in a vacuum?"
  • Shown as one of the two principal problems with fishing from high orbit in Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the other being the absurd length of line and amount of reeling in needed): by the time you've reeled the fish up to your space station, it'll have been shredded and ruined by escaping fluids.
  • Examined three times in MythBusters.
    • Their earliest attempt in 2004 was trying to mimic what's seen in Hollywood films, by which they pressurized a decommissioned DC-9 plane, and remotely firing a 9mm pistol through the window with Buster next to it. The only thing happened was a small hole and air rushing out, leading them to try blowing out the window with detonating cord, but that didn't even work. The only way they got explosive decompression was blowing out the window with a shaped charge, leading to a "Busted" result. The Build Team later revisited the myth in 2005, again putting this myth in the "Busted" pile as the effect of air rushing over the aircraft wouldn't allow enough suction to cause explosive decompression.
    • The Build Team in 2009 tested if a deep-sea diver in older dive suits with brass helmets would experience some form of explosive decompression if the line providing air and pressure to the suit was ever broken. Old brass helmets relied on external air to be pumped continuously, and a non-return valve to prevent loss of pressure. On the premise that a valve degraded due to poor maintenance, the meat-and-gelatin fascimile was stuffed into a pressurized suit and lowered to 300 feet (91.44 meters). Once they cut the pump and there was no more air in the suit, all that pressure had crushed the "internal organs" right into the helmet, as well crushing the helmet itself, Confirming the myth.
  • Played straight in Other Space; justified in that the alien's biology is completely unknown, so there's no reason it couldn't explode.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Abaddon", Curtis Sandoval explodes within a second of being jettisoned from the interplanetary hauling vehicle Pequod.
  • Played for Laughs in Red Dwarf, "Confidence and Paranoia": Confidence, suffering from an ego the size of a small galaxy, declares "Oxygen is for losers!" and takes his helmet off outside of the ship. He then promptly explodes.
  • An episode of Space Precinct had an alien with acid blood. When shot its green blood dissolved through the hull causing the corpse to be blown out into space. A few seconds later it inflates and bursts.
  • In Stargate SG-1, a hijacker is inadvertently teleported into space. He remains conscious long enough to fire a few ineffective handgun shots at the heroes' ship before his dying body bounces comically against the window.
  • Usually averted on Star Trek. In fact, on Star Trek, brief exposure to space will just leave you out of breath, when you would actually require medical care. They are, at least, consistent in this manner.
    • Enterprise displays a notable exception to this rule in the fourth season (after playing it straight in the first season, with the same character no less) when Archer is briefly exposed and spends the rest of the episode struggling to walk and breathe, with his eyes completely bloodshot.
      • ... which is probably the closest they've come to reality; both extremes of either "no side effects" or "instant explosion" are equally implausible.
    • In The Next Generation episode "Disaster", Dr. Crusher and Geordi are stuck in a shuttle bay with a radioactive fire, and decide to put it out by opening the bay door for a few seconds, removing the oxygen (and every other gas) from the bay. The good doctor even advises Geordi to hold his breath and "resist the urge to exhale" while in the vacuum. (As mentioned above, that's a good way to get dead even if you could otherwise be saved.)
    • Played Straight in a Noodle Incident Dukat mentions to Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which kept him from sleeping for a week.
    • Averted somewhat more realistically in the Star Trek Expanded Universe book Federation. When the shuttle bay explosively decompresses with the whole Enterprise-D command crew inside, everyone has to be treated for injuries sustained due to vacuum exposure after Data rescues them by shoving everyone into a shuttle. Wesley's worst off: having not gone through Starfleet Academy at this point and therefore not knowing you're supposed to exhale, he briefly tries to hold his breath and suffers lung damage.
    • While happening completely offscreen, two Red Shirt security officers meet their end this way in And The Children Shall Lead. The possessed children trick the crew and sensors into believing their planet is still below the ship when in fact they are well underway to a destination the Big Bad wants them to head to. The two guards are beamed down to the planet-except there is no planet. Whatever happened to tthem, the sick realization was nowhere near in time to beam them back.
    • In the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode "The Broken Circle", Dr. M'Benga and Chapel have to space themselves wearing only street clothes in order to escape a spaceship that's about to be destroyed. Since they have an emergency locator beacon with them, they're beamed aboard the Enterprise after less than a minute, but when they arrive they're covered in frost, and Chapel initially isn't breathing and has to be resuscitated.
  • War of the Worlds (1988): "Goliath is My Name". An alien is sealed in a biohazard clean room when our heroes start its decontamination procedure. When the indicator shows that the room has become a total vacuum, the alien promptly swells up and explodes. Admittedly, it's not unheard of for aliens to explode from dying in other sorts of ways as their decomposition causes a massive, rapid exothermal reaction.

  • "Road Trip" by Ninja Sex Party ends this way when Danny, having had sex on every corner of the globe, moves on to have sex with aliens. However he is too horny to put on a spacesuit, and this happens.

  • Douglas Adams realised long after the event that The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy 1978 should have been a far shorter series and ended approximately ten minutes into the first episode when Ford and Arthur are thrown through an airlock on the Vogon ship and into deep space. Even if they had been rescued twenty-nine seconds later, all that would have been recovered would have been a couple of corpses.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Only War characters suffer explosive damage from depressurization if exposed to vacuum and eventually freeze.
  • The Paranoia mission "Clones in Space" is infamous for including an Explosive Decompression Table. This being Paranoia, you always die, but you can roll dice to randomly vary the exact manner in which you do so (exploding, charring, freezing, all of the above...)

    Video Games 
  • In Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, when the Vault Hunters first arrive on Elpis and meet Janey Springs, she informs them that as soon as they leave the vacuum-sealed moonshot cannon shell they arrived in the oxygen will vent and their eyes will pop like grapes. Fortunately, they don't have to worry about this in-game, though everyone except Claptrap still has to worry about keeping their oxygen supply up while in a vacuum.
  • Crystal Caves is set deep down in mines on an apparently airless planet. The only reason you're able to breathe is thanks to Air Generators scattered throughout the levels. If you carelessly shoot one of them... You've blown up an air generator! The vacuum rushes in and your body inflates like a balloon, then pops as your helmet sails away.
  • Ironically averted in Dead Space 2. A Hackers RIG, in place of a proper helmet and armor, outfits you with a gas mask. And a thick jacket. This may be a coincidence as the designers don't seem to mind unlikely feats of Postmortem antics, either.
    • Also, this trope (or in this case, lack thereof) reaches a ridiculous level in the last level of the Extraction spinoff, where the main character, seeing as his hand is impaled to the spaceship's outer hull, cuts it off by hacking away at it with a rock saw. While it could be plausible that space suits were modular, and thus remained functional despite damage occurring to non-vital parts, it still doesn't even begin to explain how all of Nate's blood didn't get squeezed out like milk out of a carton the second he made the first cut.
  • In Duck Dodgers 64, any level where Dodgers would drift into space has him flying around for a few moments before immediately imploding.
  • An underwater example can be found in Ecco the Dolphin II: Tides Of Time, where Vortex drones explode if they get too close to the surface. Neither Ecco nor any other creature has a similar risk of decompression. Slightly Truth in Television: deep-sea fish have evolved to live under high pressure and consequently do not react at all well to pressure significantly higher in the water column: deep-sea fish brought to the surface usually have bulging eyes and their swim bladders protruding from their mouths. They don't explode, though.
  • In the Mothership Zeta add-on for Fallout 3, at one point you need to depressurize a section of the ship and walk through it wearing a space suit. However, if you do not wear the suit, or remove it while inside, Your Head Asplode.
  • Inverted in FTL: Faster Than Light. Being exposed to space doesn't even hurt crew members unless there's not enough oxygen, and they don't die in any sort of bodily explosion.
  • In Hardspace: Shipbreaker, some of the ships you need to disassemble will have pressurized compartments. The only safe way to depressurize them is to open the airlock door to vent the atmosphere in a controlled manner and then enter the ship and find atmospheric regulators to empty the air in each compartment. Breaching a pressurized compartment with your cutting tools will cause whatever panel you're slicing through to explode, potentially destroying valuable salvage and injuring or killing you. If the shrapnel hits something flammable like a fuel tank or the main reactor, you can expect things to get even more explosive in short order.
  • Mass Effect 2 features Shepard thrown from his/her exploding ship into the vastness of space. Initially, s/he suffers no ill effects... but then his/her sealed spacesuit begins to leak. Sure enough, s/he's out in seconds and descends into a decaying orbit. S/he gets better.
  • In Mega Man ZX, a minor enemy called the Galleon Diver is a robot that rides an aquatic cycle that's connected to a pipe that delivers compressed air, which is what allows it to dive great lengths underwater. According to its Secret Disk entry, should that pipe be ruptured, however, the water pressure immediately crush the Galleon to death. Indeed, if Vent/Aile cuts the pipe rather than attack the Galleon directly, it will instantly explode.
  • Lampshaded in Persona 5 during the spaceport level, when the Phantom Thieves travel back and forth through a vacuum between a number of different airlocks. Then again, this could be excused due to the level being set within a Mental World.
    Futaba: Welllll, apparently you’ll be okay for like thirty seconds if you keep your eyes and mouth shut. Which is weird, because honestly, I woulda thought we’d just explode out there.
  • Averted in Portal 2 In the ending, you make a portal to the moon, and you go flying out, hanging on to the badguy, who's also barely hanging on. You're exposed to the dead of space for almost exactly 15 seconds before being rescued, after which you pass out for an unspecified period of time before waking up.
    • The portal shot into the moon actually causes the explosive decompression of the room on earth. Luckily for Chell, air is also evacuated, so there's a bit of atmosphere to breathe as she's flailing around before the capture.
  • Referenced in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction:
    Talwyn: Congratulations! You've won an all-expenses-paid trip out the airlock! Hope you don't mind letting yourself out, I hate that popping sound of bodies decompressing in space.
  • Referenced in Sonic Colors, in one of Eggman's hilarious PA announcements:
    Dr. Eggman: If you experience explosive decompression, please try to avoid staining the seat cushions. Those things are expensive!
  • Most of the Space Quest games allow killing the main character by exposure to vacuum. The effects are inconsistent depending on the humor value but never portray it realistically. Space Quest I and III have Roger exploding like a balloon whenever this happens, along with the death screen message: "Sudden decompression sucks!" (it actually blows - it's the pressure inside pushing, rather than some suction from outside - that does it). Space Quest V and IV allow him to open the airlock doors on the ship/shuttle he's in, without a spacesuit. Both times, he's immediately hurled out by howling hurricane-force winds, despite the fact neither ship could possibly hold enough atmosphere for decompression to lift him off his feet and struggle for a few seconds before losing his grip.
  • Averted in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: When the Emperor orders Vader to kill you, he crashes you through a window to silently drift into space, but you get rescued shortly after and survive just fine.
    • Conceivably, Vader's lightsaber through Starkiller's chest immediately prior might have been responsible for emptying his lungs, thus saving his life.
  • The Unreal Tournament map "DM-Pressure" has a room that works this way. Pushing a button outside the room causes it to seal up and depressurize, causing anyone trapped inside to swell up and eventually explode. There are goodies in the room meant to lure players and bots inside.

    Visual Novels 
  • A recurring plot point in Ever17. There is an underwater amusement park that requires its guests to follow a decompression procedure before going to the park. Later, a character deliberately ignored the procedure in an attempt to save someone and some managed to survive.

    Web Animation 
  • This is the fate of Numskull who took her helmet off in outer space in Dumb Ways to Die.
  • Happy Tree Friends: In Sea What I Found, Russell's diving suit is inflated with too much air, which causes him to expand into a ball and eventually explode.

  • Dragon Ball Multiverse: Unfortunately invoked during Chapter 16. After killing the rest of the Z-Fighters, Cell nabs Krillin and drags him into outer space. Once there, Krillin's brain and lungs explode almost immediately. The explosive properties are debatable, though; he doesn't burst open, we just see blood coming out of his mouth and nose, which actually is entirely possible in the vacuum of space, especially given that Krillin was fairly wounded already. Though, given that it is a comic and thus no movement, it's impossible to tell if this trope applies or not.
  • Naturally, The Perry Bible Fellowship has its own sick contribution to the topic.

    Web Original 
  • Bodies In Space is art by Nathan Hoste laying out the various things you die of if you're Thrown Out the Airlock. It makes clear that this trope is not one of them unless you hold your breath (and even then it involves internal rupture).

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in the American Dad! episode "Familyland", when the factions ruling over the sections of an amusement park are fighting each other and Steve pulls off a spaceman's helmet in the space-themed area, causing the latter's head to explode. This is entirely due to Rule of Funny, as Steve can survive without equipment just fine.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force: In "The Last One", the Mooninites kill Oog this way, throwing a bone outside the moon's protective dome so he will chase after it. He goes outside to grab it and explodes.
  • Averted early in Exo Squad. Nara Burns loses her helmet and Marsala gives her his own before the back trip to their ship through some vacuum. Lieutenant Marsh expresses concern whether Marsala will make it to the ship, and the latter reassures him he will: as a Neosapien, he can survive without the air far longer than any human, and this trope isn't apparently an issue. The back trip itself isn't shown, but Marsala is fine afterwards.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, with another fight between Peter and Ernie The Chicken that takes them flying towards space and destroying a station with one of the astronauts blowing up after sucked into space.
  • This gem in Futurama.
    Holographic Attila the Hun: No shoot fire stick in space canoe. Cause explosive decompression.
    Zapp Brannigan: Spare me your space age technobabble, Attila the Hun.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Wishbones", Skarr makes a wish for the world to witness his might that has an enormous statue of him rising from the ground. Skarr proceeds to gloat to everyone seeing it, failing to notice the rising statue is exiting the planet's atmosphere, he then loses oxygen and promptly explodes.
  • Averted in Inspector Gadget. After Gadget gets jettisoned out into space, all he needs to do to survive is equip his Gadget Space Helmet. Possibly justified in that we're never shown exactly how much of Gadget's body is still organic enough to be affected by a vacuum.
    • In a different episode, he's put in a vacuum chamber where all the air is sucked out, and he's shown struggling to breathe. Though Space Is Noisy is invoked, as he's able to say how difficult it is to breathe in the chamber.
  • Metalocalypse: In the second episode, producer Dick "Magic Ears" Knubbler is leaving a submarine recording session in a bathysphere that's rising way too fast - the camera lingers an agonizingly long time on him screaming until his eyeballs pop. During the end credits, we see he's been fitted with a pair of robotic eyes and he's feeling great.
  • In the Mike Tyson Mysteries episode "Heavyweight Champion of the Moon", Mike accidentally kills Richard Branson this way when he pulls the latter's helmet off on the Moon.
  • Downplayed in the Phineas and Ferb episode "Out to Launch"; whenever a character ends up in space without a suit on, their body would just swell into cartoonish proportions.
  • Averted in Once Upon a Time... Space. Near the end of one episode a Cassiopeian agent surprises the protagonists and, after talking too much while pointing them with his gun, his fishbowl helmet is broken by a stray object. The last scene shows him from the back, dead, and rotating wildly.
  • ReBoot: During the Saucy Mare's trip to the web, they cover the outside of the ship in dead web creature hides, forming a layer of armour. However, a hole is eventually blown in it, leading to explosive decompression that suck sout a few crew members.
  • In the Robot Chicken episode "Maurice Was Caught", little orphan Annie is given Mars for her sweet sixteen party, and upon visiting it, trips and loses her spacesuit helmet. Guess what happens?
  • Played for laughs in Sealab 2021, where a couple of people from Spacelab fall victim to this.
  • The Simpsons:
    • An Itchy and Scratchy cartoon in "Deep Space Homer" has the cat and mouse duo go into space. Scratchy's head blows up like a balloon; it explodes when Itchy pricks it with a pin.
    • They got it closer to right in "Treehouse of Horror VII" when Homer accidentally fires Bill Clinton and Bob Dole into space - they struggle for a bit, then expire.
    • In "Treehouse of Horror X: Life's a Glitch, Then You Die", Homer and Bart accidentally board a shuttle of obnoxious celebrities headed for the sun, then jump out the airlock to get away from Rosie O'Donnell. They blow up and pop like balloons.
  • Averted with the Gems in Steven Universe. The Gems are a race of space-faring aliens whose physical "bodies" are just Hard Light constructs around their true forms of their gems, which comes with several perks. One of them is that they are capable of surviving in open space with absolutely no negative side effects. This also means that the Homeworld Rubies were still floating around in space in "Adventures in Light Distortion", weeks or even months after they got launched into space in "Back to the Moon".
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In the episode "Rising Malevolence" Master Plo Koon and several troopers have to exit their escape pod to fight the droids attempting to crush it. The clone troopers are concerned about Plo Koon entering space without a pressure suit but either due to his species or mastery of the force he says he can survive in space for a short time with just his breathing mask. When they're rescued the troopers are in worse shape and seem to be exibiting signs of hypoxia since they were running out of air and their suits were not designed for extended periods in space. Those in the escape pods which were not defended were killed and in most cases blown into space when the droids breached the seals on the pods.
  • Brock Sampson gets briefly exposed to the vacuum of space in The Venture Brothers, but survives due to his Made of Iron nature. And while the Movie Night Tragedy involved the same, the effects that Red Death describes are more realistic; those who held their breath popped their lungs, those who didn't "merely" swole up, sweat and spittle boiling off their bodies, screaming silently in the void...
  • Weaponised in Superman: The Animated Series. In "World's Finest", Superman rips a hatch off an airliner to enter after it's seized by terrorists. The terrorists are blown towards the door by the escaping air (while the hostages have been strapped to their seats) and right into Superman's fist. It's not revealed how he sealed the hole afterwards, but he is Superman.

    Real Life 
  • The aforementioned Byford Dolphin accident is perhaps the only real case of truly Explosive Decompression. Be warned that the results are not for the faint of heart or those with an overly graphic imagination. The Other Wiki states: "Subsequent investigation by forensic pathologists determined that Hellevik, being exposed to the highest pressure gradient and in the process of moving to secure the inner door, was forced through the 60 centimetres (24 in) diameter opening created by the jammed interior trunk door by escaping air and violently dismembered, including bisection of his thoracoabdominal cavity, which further resulted in expulsion of all of the internal organs of his chest and abdomen, except the trachea and a section of small intestine, and of the thoracic spine. These were projected some distance, one section later being found 10 metres (30 ft) vertically above the exterior pressure door."
  • If the airliner you're in decides to dismantle itself at 30,000 feet you can expect ruptured lungs to be one of the clues that an in-flight breakup occurred during your autopsy. BOAC Flight 781 is one of the more notorious explosive decompressions to occur on a civilian airliner. The crashes of Japan Airlines Flight 123 and China Airlines Flight 611 demonstrate what happens when improper, incomplete repairs on hull damage go unnoticed for several years. Aloha Airlines Flight 243 did demonstrate that such an event is not necessarily completely fatal.
    • And it should be pointed out that an explosive decompression event on an aircraft can also kill in other ways. Consider, for example, Turkish Airlines Flight 981, when an improperly locked cargo door on a DC-10 opened by itself while the plane was in mid-air. The resulting pressure differential between the passenger cabin and the cargo bay immediately underneath caused the floor to buckle, severing numerous flight control systems. The plane almost immediately entered into an unrecoverable nosedive and crashed into the Ermenonville Forest, killing all 346 people onboard in what was the deadliest aviation accident until the Tenerife disaster in March 1977. This wasn't even the first time this sort of door failure and decompression had happened on a DC-10, the previous occasion being on an American Airlines DC-10 two years prior (though in that case, the pilots were able to safely land the aircraft with no loss of life).
    • On British Airways Flight 5390, the pilot's side windscreen blew out due to being fitted with the wrong size bolts, and took the pilot with it. Incredibly, the plane landed safely with no loss of life (and yes, that includes the pilot).
  • World War II crimes against humanity
    • The Nazis carried out scientific explosive decompression experiments in the death camps, with a view to working out survival techniques for submariners at great depths, or for aircraft crews in planes that were going ever higher and higher and subjected to diminishing air pressure. Unlucky and dispensable test subjects were placed in atmospheric chambers and subjected either to massively increased atmospheric pressure or to the sort of atmospheric pressure to be found in deep space. Quite often they were used to test prototype high-altitude flight suits and survival systems, and most of the conclusions drawn above were in fact scientifically proven by a regime that viewed some people as expendable lab-rats. While nobody wants to admit it, this Nazi research was in fact vital to post-war America and Britain, who reaped the benefits of Nazi science for their own military use whilst keeping their hands clean and staying morally spotless.
    • As did Japanese scientists working on in Unit 731.
  • There is a myth that has been circling the US military for several years about a sabot round fired from an Abrams tank into an M113 APC with a sheep inside, creating an explosive decompression that blew the sheep through the exit hole but left the vehicle mostly intact. It is most likely a fabrication produced by the Army's rumor mill, as a sabot round uses spall from the armor it displaces to destroy its target, and the targets are anything but intact afterwards.
  • An interesting note from a passenger on a plane which had a hole ripped in it in flight in 2011. A passenger noted:
    "The crew was pretty calm about it. They walked around and checked on everyone," he said. "But it wasn't like the movies where papers get blown out of the hole, but you could feel it and hear the noise."
  • The crew of the spacecraft Soyuz 11 were killed when the ship's cabin depressurized during reentry. A valve was jolted open during the jettison of the service module, causing the cabin's atmosphere to be gradually blown into space.note  Their fates were not known until the craft landed; the ground crew lost contact before the fatal incident, which happens normally. CPR was attempted by support crews on the dead cosmonauts to no avail. As noted above, the three cosmonauts—Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev—are the only deaths to occur during spaceflight that were a direct result of decompression; technically, they're the only three humans ever to die in space.note  With relation to this trope, footage of the aftermath shows their bodies to be relatively intact after roughly half an hour exposed to a vacuum.
    • The irony is that this was the one contingency they didn't plan for. Scientists later figured out that the leak was slow enough that they could've carried enough oxygen on-board the capsule to flood it with air and keep it pressurized throughout re-entry if a valve like that one were stuck.
  • This is why it's hard to study deep-sea animals by bringing them out of the water; they often don't take decompression very well, and end up looking more like gelatinous globs than creatures. Or with deep-sea fish, they might come out with what looks like ping-pong balls in their mouths but are actually their stomachs. The obvious solution is to go into their environment to study them, but that's a very expensive and risky undertaking (especially if you're sending actual humans vs underwater probes). We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deep ocean.
    • Tying into the above, this might be why a lot of aquariums don't house deep-sea animals, as their usual habitat would be difficult to mimic let alone maintain in captivity.
  • A slight variation of this is decompression sickness (or the "bends"), which tends to (mostly) happen in divers. You won't explode but, like the airplanes examples above, this can lead to your lungs rupturing. More often than not, the AGE type happens when a diver ascends to the surface too quickly or if the diver had lung conditions prior. To prevent this, some people (particularly those in the Navy) undergo some form of pressure conditioning.

I say pressure drop
Oh pressure
Oh yeah, pressure gonna drop on you!


Video Example(s):


Skarr in Space

Skarr taunts everyone as his statue rises from the ground, failing to notice as he reaches out of the atmosphere.

How well does it match the trope?

4.95 (22 votes)

Example of:

Main / ExplosiveDecompression

Media sources: