Early NASA training was a pretty perilous endeavor, as NASA technician, Jim LeBlanc, found out when the saliva on his tongue started bubbling.
“Therefore, as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.” – President John F. Kennedy.
When we think of NASA astronauts in training, we imagine that whilst the routines and the operations are likely to be strenuous, the safety procedures in place would protect the astronaut from any real harm, right?
Whilst that maybe true, these safety procedures had to be learned through trial and error, and the original space pioneers were guinea pigs in testing where the scientists didn’t always know what would happen. For instance, we knew that space has very little pressure as it is a vacuum of sorts, but we didn’t exactly know what would happen to someone in a depressurized environment as, well, it had never happened before.
On December 14th, 1966, Jim LeBlanc was a spacesuit technician working for NASA. He was testing a new suit design that was thought to be far safer when something went really wrong. He was monitored the entire time, when he walked into a chamber which was then depressurized. The tube delivering oxygen to his suit malfunctioned and Jim immediately felt the full effects. He lost balance, coordination and even felt the saliva on his tongue start to bubble. The supervisor, Cliff Hess, explained:
“Essentially, he had no pressure on the outside of his body and that’s a very unusual case to get. There’s very little in the space medical literature about what happens when you have that. There’s a lot of conjecture that your fluids will boil.”
Luckily they managed to get Jim out in time, but only after he’d lost consciousness. He recalled his experiences after the event:
“As I stumbled backwards, I could feel the saliva on my tongue starting to bubble just before I went unconscious and that’s the last thing I remember.”