What would happen to an astronaut if they floated away in space?
Assuming our brave “space warrior” actually did detach –accidentally or on purpose-- from their space station safety tether-leash and start to float away during a spacewalk, he/she does have some hope.
The first thing they'd do –after possibly filling their diaper-- is to initiate their memorized procedure for employing the SAFER jetpack. This “simplified aid for EVA rescue” is a small-sized jetpack straight out of a Buck Rogers comic book. A bit more modern, and probably a lot less capable than Buck’s, its purpose is essentially the same: allow our brave (but perhaps flawed and falling) astronaut to “fly” back to structure (on the station) where they can reattach. Then, safely back on “structure” --and after a considerable pause in their activity (with perhaps some focused introspection)-- they MAY be capable of continuing the spacewalk. But now, with a nearly “fuel-spent” SAFER, the prudent move –and most likely the direction from Mission Control—will be to head back inside and get out of their now-full diaper!
The SAFER gives astronauts basically one-shot to “come home.” It is severely limited in fuel, and being governed by the laws of orbital mechanics, it is not a simple and leisurely task to fly back to safety. That’s why we practice using virtual reality (VR). Multiple scenarios, each harder than the last, toss us from the ISS with varying degrees of (separation) velocity and directional tumbling.
If all that fails the astronaut would be fine until their oxygen runs out; sometime after about 8 hours from the time the spacewalk started.
If we reach the point of a the now-deceased astronaut, I venture to guess that he/she would remain in a slowly-spiraling-toward-earth orbit until either being recovered (highly unlikely) or burning up after re-entering earth’s atmosphere. Fortunately, we've never had this scenario happen and it's extremely unlikely. Can we please have a less morbid question next time?
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