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Space Is Cold

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"Ah, Kirk, my old friend, do you know the old Klingon proverb that tells us revenge is a dish that is best served cold? It is very cold... in space."
Khan Noonien Singh, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

An inversion of Convection, Schmonvection, Space Is Cold is the widely held misconception that space is in itself "cold". We hear Speculative Fiction writers talk about "the cold depths of space" or "the freezing void". If you get thrown into space without a spacesuit, you're going to freeze straight away, assuming you don't explode.

While you would freeze in space eventually, you will not freeze instantly. In brief, there are two reasons why. Before exploring them, it's worth noting that "freezing" specifically means "heat leaves you". There are two ways heat can leave you: convection/conduction and radiation.

  • Convection and conduction is simply touching an object, or liquid, or gas. If that which you touch has a lower temperature than you, your heat flows out of you and into it, leaving you colder.
  • Radiation means that you are radiating energy... or, simply put, you are glowing. You are essentially a giant infrared light bulb. The thing that powers this light bulb is your heat. Unless your heat is replenished by convection/conduction, energy from food or incoming radiation... your heat will run out and you will become colder.

So why isn't space cold (in the way we understand it)?

The first reason is that temperature and heat are physical properties of matter. Space is the exact opposite of matter. Space is the absence of all matter — or close enough that the difference is academic. Asking "What is the temperature of space?" is like asking a bald person what their hair color is. You cannot touch "space" because there is nothing to touch in the first place, which means that heat loss by convection or conduction cannot happen. Like matter, energy can't be created or destroyed. Things cool off when heat goes from them into the surrounding matter, even the air; nothing for the heat to travel into means the heat doesn't leave you. (Touching the surface of your spacecraft, however, can be a whole different story). This is how a thermos works, by the way; there is a near-vacuum surrounding the storage space, preventing heat from passing through.

The second reason is that radiating heat is a slow process, especially if you are in a space suit. Space suits are made to be cold (or hot, for that matter) on the surface, meaning that as soon as the surface of a space suit turns cold, it radiates a lot less energy. And more importantly, depending on where you are in space, you can have incoming radiation that balances out — or overcomes — your heat loss.

In other words, if you are too close to the Sun (or any other star) you will not freeze when exposed to space; you might be kind of cozy, or you could even burn.

Where is the comfort zone? Suppose you put on your swimming trunks, don a fishbowl style helmet, and go outside your spacecraft for some tanning. What would happen?

  • Inside the orbit of Venus or closer, you'd bake to death fairly quickly, but still not instantaneously. Even at Mercury's closest solar approach, equatorial surface temperatures top out around 700 Kelvin (~800°F, or 426°C) — this is only a third of the temperature of your typical charcoal fire, and almost twice as hot as your average kitchen oven's highest temperature. Like putting your hand on a grill, it'd be harmful but survivable for brief exposures.
  • In Earth orbit, you'd slowly work your way up to a heat stroke, and then die. You'd get a severe sunburn in just a few minutes since the effective intensity of the Sun when outside the atmosphere is about one and half to three times as strong as on the surface of (most of) the Earth on a hot, sunny day. In about half an hour you'd have second degree burns on most of your body exposed to the Sun. If the bends don't get you, you will eventually die from overheating.
  • In the orbit of Mars or beyond, you'd freeze, but rather slowly. Even in the outer solar system, you'd be slightly more concerned about running out of air or contracting the bends than freezing to death.

As for spaceships becoming incredibly cold when left without power, the real trouble with spaceships is actually ''getting rid'' of all the heat they produce so that the engines don't cook the crew to death. Indeed, spaceships are designed to radiate heat as much as possible, and then have heaters that kick on when their electronics aren't running or they pass into the shadow of a world. That's why everything was cold in Apollo 13—all the 60's era electronics that doubled as space heaters were turned off to save power. Generating heat is much easier than generating cold, which is why spaceships are designed to be slightly in the negative in their heat generation without the heaters running to compensate.

TL;DR, Space isn't cold because space isn't.

For more information, visit the analysis page.

Nonetheless, "cold space" is a near-universal trope in Speculative Fiction, to the point that aversions are met with disbelief. (And you will freeze in (deep) space; it will just take much longer than you'd think.)


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    Anime and Manga 
  • An especially obvious example occurs in the Super Dimension Fortress Macross episode "Space-Fold", in which, after being launched into space, South Ataria Island, and the ocean around it, freezes over, The Day After Tomorrow-style. The fact that this was due to a hyperdrive accident may excuse the wonky physics, but it's clearly meant to invoke this trope. Later averted when a character is exposed to space for several minutes without ill effects.
    • Of course, this was also present in the English version of the series; the Robotech novelization of the scene drew attention to the fact it didn't make sense, and credited the enigmatic shapings of Protoculture with causing the unusual effect.
  • At the end of the second part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the literally indestructible Kars is defeated by launching him into space. He tries to get back by venting his body's stored air to send him back to earth... but the water vapor freezes, sealing off the holes he uses to vent. He then tries using his wings to control his flight, but both wings would eventually freeze without a single flap, and he ends up drifting through space for eternity until his mind shuts off, effectively killing him.
  • Zigzagged in Valvrave the Liberator. The Valvraves' operational time is limited by how long it takes them to overheat, and in vacuum the mechs are shown to have severe difficulty venting all that heat. However, in another episode, some water vented into space immediately turns into ice crystals (and is used to cool the Valvraves), rather than vaporizing as would actually happen.
  • Averted in Starship Operators. While normally ships aren't worried about their own heat generation, it's certainly possible for external source to induce heat into a ship at far faster rate than the ship can radiate out. In fact, several ships have been killed by overheating them with repeated laser fire.
  • The Orbital Children: When a meteor storm hits the space station, the power runs out and the atmosphere begins to leak through multiple small punctures. For some reason this also makes the station cold, even in areas that contain a sealed atmosphere.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Iron Man miniseries Bad blood, bad guy Justin Hammer ends up being flushed into outer space together with the contents of a swimming pool; it instantly freezes around him, leaving us with the sight of a bewildered, frozen old man inside a block of ice. The story goes on to claim he is in suspended animation and might (ironically, in context) live forever.
  • The Mighty Thor: While Thor can usually survive being in the vacuum of space with no problem, one story has Korvac dump him in a random part of space, where Thor instantly starts freezing over. He's saved by the timely intervention of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Of course, once he defrosts he's fine, what with being a god and all.
  • In an issue of Star Wars (Marvel 1977), the Millennium Falcon is trying to escape from Darth Vader in his personal fighter, and having trouble. So they make a tight turn around a large ship to temporarily block his view, and jettison the water supply of the Falcon, which instantly freezes into several large blocks of ice, and Vader crashes into them when he comes around the "corner" at high speed. In reality, the water would boil due to the lack of pressure, and dissipate into a harmless gas cloud.

    Fan Works 
  • Averted in "Shakedown Shenanigans". A bottle of Bajoran springwine is used in the christening ceremony for the USS Bajor, and flash-boils after breaking against the hull.
  • The Next Frontier: One of Jeb's blog entries opens with him musing that one of the more under-appreciated achievements of the Kerbin Space Agency is forcing filmmakers to raise their realism game because so many Kerbals know firsthand that space doesn't work that way... then plaintively notes that here he is, huddled shivering under a blanket and wearing several layers of clothing. The reason for this is that the ship he's on has almost everything except life-support, the Subspace Ansible and a few of the instruments shut down while the heat-exchanger is still running at nearly full capacity, in the hopes of keeping a low profile so they can get ready to make First Contact.
  • Vigil used thermodynamics to explain why kinetic barriers are a hard counter to plasma weaponry in space combat: the kinetic barriers stop plasma from making direct contact with a ship's hull, meaning the only way hot plasma could transfer its heat is through vastly less-efficient radiation over conduction through direct contact. In order for plasma to affect a ship in any meaningful way, the shields have to first be knocked out with kinetic munitions, unless one bypasses them entirely with laser weapons, which the shields can't stop.

    Films — Animated 
  • Titan A.E. averts this trope when Korso kicks through the canopy of a damaged craft, propelling himself and Cale to safety with a fire extinguisher. Even with their eyes open, nothing freezes.
  • In the climax of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Darkseid is launched into the vacuum of space by Boom Tube and immediately freezes solid.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Doctor Evil is worried that Mini-Me may have caught a cold from being out in the 'cold of space' (Mini-Me was otherwise absolutely fine, even after spinning off into space for at least several hours).
  • The Cloverfield Paradox. Ling Tam gets trapped in the space station's airlock and water starts pouring through the ventilation system. However before she can drown the external hatch bursts from the pressure, flash-freezing the water and Tam before the horrified gaze of her colleagues.
  • The Reality Is Unrealistic aspect is demonstrated by all the people who think they found a huge plot hole in Transformers (2007), where Megatron freezes upon crash-landing in the arctic, and Cybertronians are stated to be weakened by freezing temperatures, but of course can manage space just fine (they're also expecting Elemental Baggage, incidentally); an example features in this comic.
  • Sunshine also carried this trope to an extreme; when performing a dangerous jump across space from one spaceship to another, crew members wrapped themselves in the ship's insulation. All were shivering and one had developed frostbite from the time in space (which appeared to be thirty seconds, at most). There was also a guy whose body shattered when he struck a part of the ship. Made even sillier since they don't follow their own Movie Physics: The crew states that space is -272 degrees Celsius, just above absolute zero. If space really was that cold and it had enough particles to freeze a bare person so quickly, a few sheets of insulation aren't going to protect you from instantaneously turning into a block of ice when they blow the airlock. Keep in mind the actual temperature of space could easily be 3 kelvins, or -270 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, as the ship had been heading straight towards the sun for a good while, they should have been burning, not freezing.
  • Averted in Event Horizon: Justin's suitless space exposure is portrayed as very painful and damaging for him, with him suffering substantial hemorrhaging from his blood beginning to boil, but he doesn't freeze at all (not even frostbite) and is ultimately one of the few survivors of the film, albeit in critical condition.
  • In Gravity, space debris punches a hole in the space shuttle. The shuttle crew freezes solid instantly. In reality, it would take hours for them to freeze.
    • Although this is debatable, to a certain extent. Ideal gas law means that the atmosphere inside the craft will expand very quickly, with a massive loss in temperature within instants — allowing it to convect and conduct a lot of the heat of the shuttle out as well. This would probably result in surface level frostbite, though, not freezing anyone into blocks of ice.
  • In the space film Mission to Mars, Tim Robbins plays an astronaut who finds out at one point during the film (an escape sequence) that he is drifting off into space, and voluntarily elects to remove his helmet (to avoid smashing into Mars at terminal velocity, and to prevent his wife from mounting a futile rescue attempt). The moment he removes his helmet, his face instantaneously freezes (we see from behind his head) and he goes floating away, dead.
  • Averted in Avatar — if you pay close attention as the ship arrives, you'll see heat sinks glowing red hot. It is also mentioned in the background that the first ISV, needing to use cold superconductors, was over 3 times the size due to the extra thermal load of the cooling systems for the engines, requiring much larger radiators.
  • In a story explaining the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke notes that the Discovery One spaceship should have had large radiating surfaces to dissipate the heat from the reactors powering it. They were not put in because they didn't want to have to spend the time explaining why a ship that never enters an atmosphere has "wings".
  • Probably the first-ever appearance of this was in the 1954 SF movie Riders To The Stars, in which this happens to one of the eponymous astronauts. He drifts for a moment right in front of the camera view, so that you can see that he's been turned into an Instant Mummy. Unlike most of these examples, the writers have an excuse; empirical evidence on the effects of the vacuum of space on the human body was rather lacking back then.
  • Averted in Iron Sky: Washington and Renate survive without any protective gear (and in Renate's case, very little clothing) even when Washington accidentally opens the airlock for a minute.
  • Great example in the 2012 film Lockout when, after being reminded of how cold out is in space, the warden is placed in an airlock and the outer door opened — his entire body freezes in about one second.
  • The Black Hole: A passing meteorite knocks a hole in the dome of a hydroponics bay. In an instant, everything and everyone is covered with a layer of frost.
  • The movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe such as Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), its sequel and Avengers: Infinity War, while showing a more realistic depiction of what'd happen if one was thrown in space without protection, follow this trope to an extent, as anyone who is exposed to the vacuum gets their skin covered by a layer of frost.
  • Averted in, of all places, The Last Jedi, where Leia spends about half a minute in outer space with no obvious signs of damage. She does, however, pass out from lack of oxygen after using the Force to pull herself back to the ship.

  • In Halo: The Cole Protocol, Peter Bonifacio ends up trapped in an escape capsule in space and contemplates whether he'll asphyxiate or die of hypothermia when the electricity, and therefore heat, run out. Possibly Truth in Television, given that it's not stated how long the air supply in the capsule is good for and it likely would get quite cold within a few days of the heaters shutting off, if that long.
  • The Culture:
    • Excession has a particularly bad example: Upon being Thrown Out the Airlock, a character's eyes and mouth freeze (which is realistic), followed instantly by a description of his brain freezing over in a matter of seconds.
    • By the time he wrote Surface Detail, Iain Banks had apparently learned from fans who wrote in about that. A character's ship dies, and she contemplates the irony of how her body will probably be recovered frozen solid after several weeks even though she's actually going to die of heatstroke.
  • In Have Space Suit – Will Travel, Robert A. Heinlein very carefully averts this trope and explains why it needs averting. The biggest problem with engineering a spacesuit is getting rid of heat generated by the body.
  • In The Forever War, it is also carefully averted: The Powered Armor used by the military on frigid planets around dead stars actually requires radiators to boil away the heat and keeping most of the suit's outside cool enough not to boil the solid hydrogen or methane they are standing on; If a radiator malfunctions, the human inside runs risk of dying of the heat in the vacuum of space.
  • In Out of the Silent Planet, all space travel is in the inner solar system (from Earth to Mars and back), so the sun is relatively near to Weston's spaceship, always visible, and makes things very hot within the ship. When Ransom comments, "I always thought space was dark and cold," he is met with scorn for his naivete. "Forgot about the Sun, did you?"
  • In Into the Looking Glass, the Alliance spaceship Vorpal Blade comes complete with a very long extendable heat exchanger, specifically due to how the lack of convection will eventually overheat the ship. Combat is often limited by the heat. The ship also has to stop every so often while just traveling around in order to "chill out" (as the procedure becomes known on the ship).
  • The Dragonriders of Pern book All the Weyrs of Pern has dragons in space with their riders, having to work on the spaceships quickly before they freeze to death. However, it's actually a very nice aversion. Dragons can survive without air for about 15 minutes. The temperature problem comes from the spaceships having been powered down for 2500 years, plenty of time for them to reach equilibrium with the environment, and the dragons are equipped with special gloves to insulate their paws.
  • In the Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, when Rafen gets to the spaceship on the outside of a shuttle, he, despite his gear having its vacuum seals intact, suffers from the "incredible cold" and is stiff afterward.
  • In the Chanur Novels, it is mentioned that the cargo hold is really cold because they only turn the heating on when they're actually working inside. This might be accurate, though, as the amount of time they spend between stations is indeterminate due to time dilation.
  • Averted in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when it's said that if you hold a lungful of air, you can survive for up to 30 seconds, which is luckily all that Ford and Arthur need. A lungful of air, on the other hand, might have led to Explosive Decompression; this is amended in the computer game, in which it's changed to hyperventilating and emptying your lungs.
  • The Known Space story "Wait It Out" has an astronaut trapped on Pluto. He decides to strip naked in vacuum and freeze as fast as possible, hoping to avoid frostbite and be cryogenically preserved for later rescue. Fortunately, he is trained to get in and out of his spacesuit quickly, because after he opens the first seal on his helmet, he's made an icicle in under a minute. At nighttime on Pluto, he becomes so cold that his nervous system becomes a superconductor. This allows him to think until the sun switches him off.
  • Nicely addressed and averted in The Atrocity Archive, in which a character is able to wear a thin, non-insulating suit to walk on a no-atmosphere planet and begins to feel uncomfortably cold in the suit only after he's entered a facility with a pressurized atmosphere.
  • Priscilla Hutchins: In Chindi, one unlucky pilot is hit with a blast of cold (followed immediately by Explosive Decompression) after a hull breach. Another man is trapped in a compartment separated from the ship by the process of rescuing him, and it's a race to complete the rescue as everything inside it starts icing over.
  • In Animorphs, Elfangor has to leave the ship he's in to retrieve the Time Matrix while racing against the extreme temperatures of space, invoking this trope.
  • In Space, Stars, and Slimy Aliens, of the Horrible Science book series, Slobslime takes a spacewalk without a spacesuit and both freezes and burns. She gets better.
  • The final battle in The Flight of the Eisenstein takes place on the Moon's surface. The narrative repeatedly notes Garro's reaction to the cold and the ice on his enemy's exposed body.
  • The Star Carrier series falls victim to this despite the author having Shown His Work elsewhere. Water is described as flash-freezing when exposed to space when it should actually boil. There's also a rather odd description in book three of water from a starship's punctured shield capnote  flash-freezing and at the same time boiling in direct sunlight.
    • In fact, the water in vacuum (or at least, severely reduced pressure) does simultaneously boil and freeze. Boiling takes energy (phase-change energy), and it is enough to freeze the rest of the water.
  • Orthogonal averts this and makes the aversion key to the plot at several points. Because of their Bizarre Alien Biology, the aliens that serve as the trilogy's cast don't seem to need to breathe, but they are at near-constant risk of fatal hyperthermia — sometimes explosively — even under mundane circumstances. Their greatest risk during an unprotected EVA is not asphyxiation but rather burning to death from the inside out. (Their "spacesuits" are designed more to keep air flowing over the skin and then vent it to space to disperse heat, rather than to let them breathe or maintain any atmospheric pressure.)
  • Inverted in-universe in Hal Clement's "Sun Spot". 'Grumpy' Ries has to spend a couple hours keeping an astronomical camera, and its operator, from getting cooked on the surface of a comet making a very close pass by the Sun. When he comes back inside, the observatory's doctor offers to treat him for burns. Ries points out he's been manhandling sacks of frozen methane and other ices which were still at the temperature of interstellar space. "Break out the frostbite remedy, will you, please?"
  • Mission: Levity averts this: When space suits are breached, there is generally a bit of frost from rapidly expanding moisture (such as blood), but no flash freezing. (The suits are also equipped to deal with decompression to keep the wearer alive for a while.)
  • Averting this is a major point in The Mote in God's Eye and its sequel. Spaceships radiate heat using their shields. When under fire, the shield generators generate heat faster than it can be radiated. Shields in this universe are essentially impenetrable, so space battles only end when one ship accumulates too much heat and vaporises itself. In the sequel, the Moties have developed a way of increasing the radius of their shields as they heat up, giving them a larger surface area to radiate heat and allowing them to last much longer in combat that human ships. Unfortunately for them, the only wormhole out of their system ends in the atmosphere of a star (which they don't know about), so their expanding shields end up absorbing heat much faster and destroying them rather than allowing them to fight their way out.
  • Line of Delirium: Surprisingly averted in Emperors of Illusions when two characters bail out of a doomed ship in Powered Armor not really meant for long-term vacuum exposure. One of the characters is wondering what will kill them first: the lack of oxygen or them boiling in their own armor (i.e., due to the heat build-up and few ways of shedding it). They get rescued by a Deus ex Machina before this happens, though.
  • Cooling issues provide the major limitation on spaceship construction and travel in The Citizen Series. Ships cool in the Continuum even poorer than in realspace, so they have to store their waste heat in large iron heat sinks aboard, which leads to a variant on the Tyranny of the Rocket Equation. Iron produces drag on moving objects when present in the Continuum, meaning that ships produce even more heat pulling their own heat sinks. Once they make planetfall, ships have to cool their heat sinks with pumped-in fresh water, a process that takes days and tends to cause rainstorms across the region.
  • Lensman: Averted when First Lensman Virgil Samms has to visit Pluto and has a custom-made spacesuit to protect him against the extreme cold. The book takes the trouble to point out that space itself is not cold; the hazard lies from him coming into contact with Pluto's long-frozen surface.
  • In the Red Dwarf novel Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, a disgusted Lister has the ship's emergency backup milk supply (consisting of dog milk) dumped into space, after which it instantly freezes into a dog-milk asteroid.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Silent Sea. The automated systems on the moonbase detect a rise in pressure from the rapidly replicating lunar water and try to purge it. Unfortunately at that moment the sun sets on the Moon and the water freezes as it's being ejected from the vents, clogging them so the lunar water floods the moonbase instead.
  • Star Trek is often guilty of this, as seen in the page quote. Averted, though, in Star Trek: Enterprise when Captain Archer is spaced during the fourth season. The portrayal of the effects of spacing are exceptionally accurate.
    • Star Trek: Picard: Towards the end of season 3: one of the big bads gets spaced, and they freeze rock-hard within the space of half a minute before shattering on a nearby hull. However, it's unclear if the unusual alien physiology of the being in question played a part in their rapid freezing.
  • When the engines fail in the Firefly episode "Out of Gas", it's asserted that Serenity's crew will freeze to death before they have time to run out of air, because the power is out and thus so is the heating. This has some basis in fact. Engines build up a lot of heat, so logically a spacecraft would be designed to vent heat efficiently. Without an engine to generate heat, a system designed to vent it efficiently would cause the ship to get cold quickly.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "Four to Doomsday", wearing just an air-helmet, the Doctor explains that he can survive about five minutes in open space. Vacuum is apparently not a problem for his exposed skin; the time-limiting factor is explicitly named as the intense cold.
    • In "The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe", the Doctor again is exposed to space, and seems to have no issues even with the cold (and he has no air helmet). He is concerned about burning up on reentry ... so he dons a spacesuit as quickly as possible (as if that would help ... and actually, it apparently does). The spacesuit is a really futuristic advanced "impact suit", that through some technobabble absorbs most of the force of the impact but also repairs the damage to his body afterward. The Doctor even says that "the suit isn't done repairing me yet". He leaves a pretty big crater on the ground where he hits.
  • In an episode of Farscape, Crichton jumps between a spaceship that is about to explode and one that isn't. He doesn't have a spacesuit, and he prepares himself by hyperventilating to oxygenate his blood. He jumps, closes his eyes, and adds additional propulsive force by firing a blast rifle. He survives with little more than skin capillary damage, but it's not a pleasant trip — the first thing he does upon arriving safely is start screaming in pain. Spacing characters appears to be something of a Running Gag, as most of the ongoing characters have at one point found themselves exposed to vacuum, with D'Argo holding the record for most (accidental and intentional) spacings. Fortunately, thanks to his Bizarre Alien Biology, he's alright as long as he's recovered within about 15 minutes. He later voluntarily goes out into space with only a breathing mask.
  • In Avenue 5, being exposed to the vacuum of space will immediately cause your body to freeze completely solid even before you leave the airlock.
  • Stargate SG-1: One episode has O'Neill and Teal'c exposed to space for several seconds so that they can be rescued from a stray fighter craft — Carter even instructs them to do some heavy breathing first, then exhale as much as possible. Once they're rescued, O'Neill is visibly shaking, but whether it's due to cold or just good old-fashioned near-death trauma isn't really specified. In any case, nobody ever flash-froze. At that point, they'd been drifting for at least twelve hours with the heating turned to the minimum possible level in order to preserve their compromised life support power. Jack even says that he's "done the freezing to death thing before" when trying to convince Teal'c to turn the heating back up a little bit. In addition, their life support has almost run out, and they are suffering from carbon dioxide poisoning (actually portrayed correctly — it's not lack of oxygen but rather excess carbon dioxide that the damaged life support system isn't able to remove). The carbon dioxide levels are almost (but not quite) fatal, so they are already in pretty bad shape when they open the canopy.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) is mostly accurate in its portrayal of space but plays this trope as straight as possible; pretty much every person vented into space in one way or another is immediately shown being frosted over. The most striking example is probably the one where two crew members are locked in a damaged airlock, and they get colder as the air pressure lowers. Possibly based on the aerosol can effect, whereby the can cools down as the contents are released, but this is only because the process of the can's contents changing from liquid to gaseous form takes energy, something which would not apply to escaping air.
  • Being a show that usually does the research, The West Wing gets it right in "What Kind of Day Has It Been?". The space shuttle Columbia is experiencing problems preparing for re-entry, with Toby's brother on board:
    Toby: First thing the shuttle does after it leaves the atmosphere is open the cargo bay doors. That's what lets the heat out. Once those doors close... they have a pretty short window to get back before it overheats.
  • In the Babylon 5 episode "And Now for a Word", Dr. Stephen Franklin recounts an event in his childhood wherein a kid was spaced accidentally. To the show's credit, the body was frozen after having spent hours outside.
  • This shows up right in the theme song of Red Dwarf: "It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere..."
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "The Atomic Brain", Tom Servo attempts to give the weather as the weather robot "Weather-Servo 9". As soon as he's raised up, the first thing he complains about is how cold it is. Thankfully, he's warmed up... by a passing meteor shower.

  • Spoofed in the Flight of the Conchords song "Bowie", in which they ask if the coldness in space makes your nipples pointy.
  • Hawkwind make a lot of this trope in their Space Rock classics, such as "Golden Void" and "Space Is Dark".
  • From Elton John's "Rocket Man":
    Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
    In fact, it's cold as hell

    Newspaper Comics 
  • One Flash Gordon comic published in the '70s featured a woman who leapt from the airlock of one ship to another nearby, without a space suit. She made a mental note of keeping her eyes closed so they wouldn't immediately freeze (there is some truth to that as liquid flash-boils and freezes in a vacuum, though whether the writers had that in mind is another matter). Of course, she was previously Made of Iron in a grueling process (so she could perform manual labor on Mercury), not to mention a Badass Normal before that.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Played with in Call of Cthulhu. Space Mead will protect a human from 'the vacuum and vicissitudes' of space. Of course, the effect ends as soon as you reach your destination, so watch where you're going... and do keep a dose for the way back, will you?
  • BattleTech averts this on the surface in that one major concern of spacecraft is in fact the threat of overheating in combat...but its 'heat sinks' (really just compact high-tech heat pumps with radiators) still seem to have suspiciously little trouble venting said heat into space to cool off again.
  • In Eclipse Phase, biomorphs without vacuum sealing can spend one minute in space as long as they keep their lungs empty and their eyes shut. While the game makes it clear that Explosive Decompression and boiling organs are fantasies of the pre-Fall media, characters do still take 10 points of cold damage per minute the second they enter space without thermal protection. This is especially jarring considering that Eclipse Phase constantly prides itself at being one of the most "hard sci-fi" games out there (except when it comes to alien or post-singularity phenomena, but then it's just Clarke's Third Law at work)
    • Even stranger when one book specifically notes that a hard vacuum is a decently good insulator and that freezing to death isn't really a concern.
  • Played with in the Paranoia adventure Clones in Space, which features an Explosive Decompression Table that determines a character's fate when expelled into space ... and decides whether you freeze, boil, explode, or suffocate randomly and differently for each character.
  • Averted in both GURPS in general and Transhuman Space in particular. The books go out of the way to remind that space itself is neither hot nor cold.

    Video Games 
  • In Angry Birds Space, if a pig goes beyond an atmosphere and into actual space, they instantly freeze. If they don't re-enter an atmosphere within 2 seconds, they die. Not a problem for the birds, as they are in superhero mode and, thus, ruled by Batman Can Breathe in Space.
  • In Space Station 13, going into space without a spacesuit + helmet causes the temperature to drop to nothing and causes massive damage to your person.
    • Averted in some codebases, where space instead heats you up. Though since being too hot and too cold both deal burn damage, as long as the heat isn't enough to set you on fire the difference is mostly academic.
  • In EVE Online you leave a frozen corpse when your pod is destroyed. However, said pod is filled with a goo that was made from dead human cells, which probably boiled over when it hit the vacuum. And this isn't what kills you, it's the neurotoxin and burning brain scanner activated on pod breach, which is used to put your mind in a new cloned body.
    • Also note that one of the damage types in the game is Thermal.
  • Used several times in the MechWarrior series of video games, where battles in space or on planets with no atmosphere allowed your Mech to cool off much faster than normal. Mechs and aerospace fighters are described as using heat sinks to vent heat, which are sometimes described as being specialized to work in a vacuum. MechWarrior Living Legends has the map, Extremity, which takes place on a rotating asteroid near a star. At night, temperatures drop to -150 degrees Celsius, causing all the industrial-runoff lakes to freeze over. When the sun comes up, however, the temperature skyrockets to 250 degrees Celsius, causing part of the asteroid's surface to vaporize, the lakes to melt, and causing players to overheat their battlemechs even more easily.
    • Averted in the Battletech video game, set in the same universe. Air-free asteroids and martian-class planets have some of the worst heat management penalties because there's not enough atmosphere for your 'mechs to vent their heat into, making heat management even more critical than in earth-like deserts and badlands.
  • Dead Space averts this. Any area exposed to space shows no signs of freezing. One oxygen-deprived area is frozen over, but the announcement system mentions that the area has both life support and climate control malfunctions.
  • Mass Effect nailed their aversion of this trope. The Codex goes quite in-depth about heat management. Ships have many ways of dumping heat, from radiative stripes on the hull (oft called tiger-stripes or war paint due to the way they light up on thermal imaging), to a liquid-droplet heat exchange system used in extreme battle conditions. It is also noted that heat is the predominant concern in an engagement, and that ships must disengage when the build-up is too great. Battles near a planet are brief and frantic because the star's radiative heat causes the ships to overheat faster. It is also noted as the reason why Normandy cannot use the stealth system for too long: heat is stored in special sinks within the ship (thermal imaging is the easiest way to detect ships, especially powerhouse warships), but if left operating for too long it would eventually bake the crew. In fact that is the only way to have Stealth in Space.
  • The intro to Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter shows a Suul'ka teleporting into space from an ocean, appearing to be encased in a shell of water which has flash-frozen in space. The Suul'ka then breaks the icy shell, signifying its "birth".
  • In X3: Albion Prelude, the achievement for forcing another pilot to eject is titled "It's Cold Outside". This may be a Red Dwarf reference.
  • Naev averts this trope. Heat generated by your ship's weapons is transferred to sinks inside the ship, which gradually radiate it. As your weapons heat up, their accuracy and rate of fire degrades. As your ship's hull heats up, you become more visible (ships can detect you at longer range, and hostiles will shoot at you more), and outfits cool more slowly. Ships cool more slowly near stars.
  • Starbound Used to play it straight as well, your character froze quite fast on moons and in asteroid fields unless wearing something warm like snow infantry armor or aegisalt armors and above. Now averted, with suffocation being the reason you can't go out in space for long without adequate protection.
  • In Elite Dangerous one factor you must keep an eye on is the heat level of your ship. Normally, it doesn't rise above about 30% of the safe maximum and if it goes above that waiting is usually enough to cool it back down, but, if you want to use Stealth in Space, you have to cut off all heat emissions, and store all your heat in silent running mode or turn off all your systems including engines and life support. Also, doing things lie firing your weapons and flying too close to a star increases your heat levels, and if your ship gets too hot, it stars taking damage.
  • As is the case with most of the rest of the game, Kerbal Space Program accurately portrays the non-temperature of space. A vessel that is heated too much in the atmosphere before going into space will retain its temperature, and you will have to use electric charge and radiator panels to get rid of excess heat generated by machinery, electronics, or friction while in space. Trying to operate the temperature or pressure scan experiments while in space will result in the game reminding you that, as there is nothing to take the temperature of, the device will read nothing. That'll give the boys in R&D something to think about.
  • Sunless Skies: Played with, in that the High Wilderness is outer space, but not as we know it. It has actual, if horribly toxic air, currents and it's intensely cold. Skysuits are needed to visit it, and if you run out of fuel, thus leaving you with no steam to circulate through the heating pipes, your locomotive and everyone inside it will freeze to death. Frostbite scars are a surefire indicator of someone who got in a locomotive shootout and nearly died in it.
  • Given the game's focus on realism, averted hard in Children of a Dead Earth: heat management is absolutely crucial in spacecraft construction given that only radiation is viable method for getting rid of heat in space. Not only your spacecraft need radiators, you also need to consider that since they're rather fragile (and while armoring them up is possible, it also reduces the radiator's efficiency, not to mention mass penalty. And if you use naturally fragile material for radiators, armoring it up won't help much), if you have just barely enough and they get shot during combat, you're going to get cooked. This means you might want to install backup radiators, but that would also impose delta-v penalty due to extra mass. This is also something one must consider when designing equipment that needs cooling, since radiator efficiency scales up to temperature^4, but high outlet temperature can negatively affect the system's efficiency and limit what kind of materials you can use.
  • Played for Laughs in Deep Rock Galactic. The Wormhole Special beer can teleport the dwarf who drinks it anywhere inside of the Space Rig — as well as outside of it, which instantly freezes them solid. Thankfully, Harmless Freezing is in effect, and the dwarf also gets teleported back to where they started after several seconds.
  • In Starfield, it's a plot point that a particular supercomputer was built on the moon because it is "colder" there, making for better cooling; and they mention building it in space if that didn't work. This isn't, of course, how temperatures work; with no air to carry away heat, their supercomputer ought to have more heat problems on the moon, not less.

    Web Animation 
  • In a Cry Babies: Magic Tears short, one of the babies, after being told a story of a baby lost in space, decides to fly into space to find and help them, only to almost immediately fall back to the ground covered in a layer of ice.
  • DSBT InsaniT: Amber can freeze her opponents by summoning the Boomerang Nebula.
  • Happy Tree Friends: In "Blast From the Past", one of Sniffles' failed attempts to use his time machine to make sure Cuddles, Giggles, Toothy and Lumpy don't get maimed on a playground involves him oiling up a seesaw. When Lumpy presses down on his end, Cuddles gets sent flying into space and instantly freezes, where he's then shattered by a passing satellite.
    • In "Dream Job", Lumpy sets Sniffles' dream projector to a scene where Sniffles is likewise frozen but is shattered by a fast-moving space rock instead.

  • Discussed in this Darths & Droids comic, where Ben immediately protests when the GM mentions space is cold, and they discuss the difficulty of actually getting rid of excess heat.
  • Averted in Freefall when Helix says that he does not need air to survive, and Florence replies that he is air-cooled. Rather fortunate, as he was apparently planning a "really funny joke" once they got into space.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Used correctly when Schlock gets lost in space without a spacesuit (he doesn't need air). The footnote mentions that while he was in danger of freezing to death in the shadow of the planet, the much bigger danger was falling out of the shadow and burning to death in the direct light of the star.
    • Played with in this strip: the notes take care to remind us that space is not cold, and then offer an explanation for why bodies might rapidly freeze anyway: Vacuum isn't cold, but explosively decompressing air is.

    Western Animation 
  • The Magic School Bus: The first episode features the class landing on Pluto, which has an atmosphere that is very cold but also extremely thin (at most estimated to have 1/350,000 the air pressure of the surface of the Earth). After Janet is stubborn about leaving Arnold forces the issue by removing his helmet, his head instantly is covered in ice, but the only long-term effect is a cold. The And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment points out Arnold could not realistically survive, but claims the cold should have affected him even more, instead of pointing out the many other negative effects of exposure to a near vacuum.
  • Malo Korrigan had this played straight and averted. One episode had Malo floating in space dressed only in ordinary clothes and a breathing mask. He was okay afterward.
    • But in another, his ship got crabs... erm, lava crabs. To kill them he flushed them out in the space which is cold, it kills them instantly. As well as tossing one of the crewmates outside to cool her off.
  • Transformers: Prime averts this. The Autobots have no problems in space, they have a lot more concern with the Arctic, though, where sub-zero temperatures are a major concern. (And yes, due to The Coconut Effect, a lot of people have complained that if the arctic was that hard to operate in, space should be instant death. Nope, again, nothing for the heat to travel into means heat can't leave you, and the heat generated by the sun's unfiltered rays having no way to leave means you're in more danger of cooking than freezing.)
  • Averted in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The air conditioning system of the new Watchtower was broken and so everyone kept complaining about the heat.
  • In The Secret Saturdays, Doc flies a jet fighter into space, which freezes on the way up. He shatters the ice on the nose as he leaves the cockpit. When he gets back, the now-exposed cockpit is frozen over, as is the spot he had cleared before.
  • Robot Chicken:
    • In the first Star Wars special, Jar-Jar comes onboard an Imperial ship to visit Darth Vader. Vader tells him to get into an escape pod before the Separatists attack, believing that Jar-Jar won't know that the CIS has been wiped out, when in actuality the pod bay is empty and Jar-Jar just gets launched into space. Upon being jettisoned, he instantly freezes to death.
    • In the third special, Palpatine freezes in space at the end of a long Humiliation Conga.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Cop and a Halfwit", one scene in Peter and Joe's police work montage has them busting down a door, only for it to turn out that they're on a space shuttle. They immediately get sucked out into space and freeze to death before shattering, then they're both perfectly fine in the following scene.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), when Lord Dregg is betrayed by the Triceratons, he freezes shortly after they fire him out of their ship's airlock.
  • In the Ready Jet Go! episode "From Pluto With Love", this gets brought up a lot. Sure enough, when the kids get to Pluto, it is freezing cold.
  • In the Steven Universe episode "Warp Tour", Steven accidentally sticks his head out the Warp Pad Stream. Garnet pulls him back in, saying "It's cold, and there is not much air". And indeed, any liquid outside the stream freezes instantly, such as Steven's snot (he had an allergy, it's not that kind of show) or the goo from the defective Robonoid.
  • Love, Death & Robots: In "Helping Hand", an astronaut is adrift in space, so she removes her glove and throws it in the opposite direction to propel herself back towards her spaceship. Her hand freezes up in less than a minute, so when she misses her chance to grab the spaceship she breaks off the frozen arm and throws it away as well.

    Real Life 
  • The crew of the Apollo 13 had to shut down almost all of the electronic systems to conserve power after an explosion crippled their ship. After three days, the astronauts reported near-freezing temperatures in the Lunar Module and even condensation and ice forming on the interior. The only reason the temperature situation was so bad was that the Apollo command modules, Odyssey included, had been designed to radiate extra heat and make up the difference from waste heat from the electronics. After all, it's a lot easier to make heat than get rid of it. Shown in the movie.
  • Soyuz T-13, or rather the space station Salyut-7 they were repairing, was frozen to –40° due to power system failure. This wasn't instantaneous, of course — contact was lost after the onboard batteries were drained in February, but the next crew didn't arrive until September, which means it took six months for the temperature to drop that low.
  • Fortunately averted with the Vostok spacecraft. The only reason the Vostok cosmonauts couldn't open their capsule up and go on EVA was that the onboard electronics were air-cooled, so they would rapidly and fatally overheat in the vacuum of space.
  • During the first Skylab space station mission, Skylab 2, one of the solar arrays was torn loose in such a way that it was unable to perform its secondary mission of reflecting away sunlight from hitting the space station itself. Without it, temperatures inside Skylab skyrocketed to 52°Cnote , until the astronaut crew managed to do repairs in order to bring the temperature back down.
  • The hyper-futuristic for its time Silbervogel, Eugen Sänger's Orbital Bomber project of 1941 relied on a flight path of skipping the denser air around 40 kmnote  altitude alternating with jumps into upper atmosphere which were to cool the spacecraft by exposing it to the cold vacuum of the space. Nowadays it can be easily said there were far more chances to burn the spacecraft like a meteor.
  • Fun fact: space telescopes that study the sky on the infrared band such as NASA's Spitzer and WISE, or ESA'snote  Herschel need to have their instruments at very low temperatures in order to work (below 2Knote  for the latter). When the coolant — liquid helium for Spitzer and Herschel — runs out, they cannot work properly.
    • This is actually a problem for all infrared imaging. Since an infrared camera itself has a temperature and radiates infrared, any signal from an object the same temperature or cooler than it will be swamped by its own radiation. This makes it important to prevent infrared cameras getting too hot, since you won't be able to see body heat if the camera is at body temperature. Telescopes have more of a problem because they're usually looking at very long wavelengths and need to be very cold to avoid producing those wavelengths themselves. This also explains why heat-sensing organs can be found in cold-blooded creatures like snakes, but not in any warm-blooded animals - a snake can see a mouse in infrared, but a mouse wouldn't be able to see the snake.