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science

To the moon!

An infocomic about what happens to your body on your flight to the moon without all the fancy suits and ships and also if you didn't – you know – die along the way (which, by the way, you totally would).

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By Taisia Tikhnovetskaya & Sabine Devins
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Superhero‘s journey begins in Dubai.
He has two superpowers:
It should be known that superheroes are not guaranteed super intelligence.

300m

While our Superhero can fly and cannot die, he still experiences pain and fear.

500m

This is about the height of the Empire State building. The air here contains about 3 percent less oxygen than the air at sea level.

Ear Preassure

When pressure in the atmosphere changes, it clashes with air trapped in the tubes behind your ear drums. As long as the pressure inside is different than the outside, his ears will hurt.

848 m - The Burj Khalifa

The building claimed the title of tallest skyscraper even before construction finished in 2010.
Although the building is spectacular, sometimes you can’t see the top because of all the dust and steam in the air.

1 km

It's about 8° Celsius and the wind is picking up.
Superhero uses the wind to travel to the highest mountain range on Earth, the Himalayas.

3 km

As our superhero arrives at the foot of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth, the air is thinner. Demotivated and short of breath, he is overcome by a strong headache.

Acute mountain sickness

AMS starts showing symptoms around 2.4 km, which our Superhero has long passed. Headaches, nausea and an increased heart rate are all byproducts of the body pushing blood into the lungs in its effort to supply the most important parts with oxygen.
But our Superhero really wants to reach the moon, so up we go.

5 km

The air Superhero breathes in at this altitude contains half the oxygen of air at ground level. It’s also cold – about -17° Celsius.
Nausea kicks in, the heart rate goes up and shortness of breath becomes hyperventilation.

Sytems flooded

AMS can progress into High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is fluid leaking into the lungs, stopping oxygen from being transferred into the blood. High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) is fluid leaking into the brain, causing the brain to swell.
Mere mortals have to acclimatize at these altitudes, but our Superhero will just power through for now.

6 km

A pink mixture of spit and mucus are coughed out in wheezing breaths, thoughts are cloudy and our Superhero starts to lose muscle control while facing a raging headache.

7.3 km - The deathzone

(for mortals)
At this point, the human body uses more oxygen than it can take in from the atmosphere. A long stay in this zone will diminish the bodily functions, causing loss of consciousness and death.
But ours is a story of immortality, so our Superhero’s blood thickens, more fluid gathers in the lungs, which can cause others to drown, but we will carry on. Death is not the enemy.

8,848 km - The summit

It’s cold – in January, temperatures at the top of Mount Everest can plummet to -60• C – but it’s the wind that hurts. The measured record here is 281 km per hour, which is about the same as Hurricane Katrina’s top speed.

10 km

It’s about -40°C. His stomach is bloated while his lungs, ears and sinuses are close to rupturing and the skin is peeling off in the cold.

Air traffic

Air traffic typically cruises between 10,000 meters and 12,000 meters. As the air gets thinner, planes require less thrust to stay up, allowing for more fuel-efficient travel and letting the planes fly over any bad weather.

Rüppel's vulture

The birds live in Africa and and typically flies at an altitude of 3 kilometers to find prey, but one was once spotted at a record altitude of 11.3 km.

11 km

A storm brews. Our Superhero flies into thunderclouds, which can produce storms and other severe weather phenomena like tornadoes (over land) and hurricanes (over water).
The wind blows in all directions, there is freezing rain, hail and each breath results in a mouthful of water. Our Superhero is dizzy – so dizzy – as the weather causes the journey to take a different course. Luckily, we’re still headed for the moon.

12 km - A blinding light

White light, then pain everywhere – no, this isn’t the end – our Superhero can’t die, but the eardrums have burst as blindness sets in and the inner organs have burst.

How thunder forms

As the positive charges go up, the negative charges move down – and the charge begins to build. At some point, a spark forms to neutralize the charge with temperatures of nearly 20,000°C – about five times hotter than the sun’s surface.
Lightning happens when little bits of ice bump up against each other and create an electric charge – not unlike someone shuffling around on carpet in socks.
From charred to scarred. Thankfully, these third degree burns are healing fast and these freezing temperatures are easing the pain.

15 km

Our Superhero enters the stratosphere. It’s cold and breathing is almost impossible. Clouds are rare here as it's about -57°C in the atmospheric layer that begins at this point.
The temperature causes any water vapours that make it here to freeze and immediately fall back down (because gravity!). It’s a dry place with a steady air flow and about 10% the oxygen levels that are at sea level.

18 km - The Armstrong Limit

A strange bubbling sensation comes from within his superhero body. What he’s actually feeling is all the liquids (except his blood) in his body boiling, including the liquid in his eyeballs and the urine stored in his bladder.
Our Superhero has reached the Armstrong Limit and it is super uncomfortable. In higher altitudes, the temperature at which water boils gets lower. At 18 km above sea level, water boils at 37° C – the average temperature of the human body.
People cannot survive this altitude without full-pressure body suit. Unfortunately for our Superhero, he can.

20 km

The steam erupting from his boiling liquids freezes as soon as it reaches the atmosphere. It’s -57°C but our Superhero is about to reach the Ozone layer.

Ozone layer

This forcefield around Earth filters out the high-energy UV radiation by absorbing it and converting it into heat. UV rays are toxic to the genetics of living things. Our Superhero, however, doesn’t care. He figures he’ll just heal from whatever mutations may come. Time will tell.

35 km

Once our Superhero reaches this point, the temperatures increase by about 5°C every kilometer. Radiation is now a major threat. His skin starts to burn.
It’s now -20°C

39 km

In 2012, Felix Baumgartner jumped from this height, falling to supersonic speeds and a top speed of 1,347 km/h. He is not a Superhero, but was equipped with a pressurized suit that helped him withstand the physical symptoms our Superhero has already experienced.

41.4 km

Two years after Baumgartner’s jump, Alan Eustace broke his skydiving record by jumping from this height.
It’s a balmy -15°C.

50 km

Air in the mesosphere is a thousand times thinner than at sea level. At this level, aircraft and weather balloons are rendered inoperational.
The UV light here is so strong that our Superhero is blistering, despite the temperatures still being only -3°C.

55 km

Our Superhero is no longer experiencing the warming effect of the heat-absorbing ozone layer and the temperature begins to drop.

Shooting stars

Fortunately for our story, his Superpowers do not include granting wishes. So he keeps flying through the meteor shower. As these rocks enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the heat causes the particles to burn up, giving us the illusion of a shooting star. As much as 36 tonnes enters the atmosphere every year.

65 km

Our Superhero is facing unexpected winds caused by atmospheric gravity waves, atmospheric tides and planetary waves. These are called zonal winds. These change with the seasons, but can blow at speeds up to 60 to 70 meters per second.

80 km

Summer is the coldest time in the mesosphere. Temperatures are -90°C. This is also the level at which clouds can exist again and they are called noctilucent clouds or polar mesospheric clouds. They are best seen in northern latitudes in the summer at twilight.

Silence

At this point, no one can hear the Superhero. Sound needs something to move through and the absence of molecules means sound cannot travel.

Kármán line

Our Superhero has now reached the Kármán Line – an arbitrary border 100 km above sea level that defines aviation from space flight.

118 km

At this point, the winds slowly turn more violent, turning into powerful gusts that can move particles around space at speeds topping 965 km/h.

120 km - Thermosphere

Therme is Greek meaning »heat«. The Thermos company, founded in Germany, used the name after someone suggested it in a naming contest.

Hot but cold

Our Superhero isn’t feeling the heat because the thermal mass of the gas molecules at this altitude is almost zero. Each molecule is very hot – the temperature can fluctuate by 200°C between night and day – but there are so few molecules here that it doesn’t feel warm.

200 km - Aurora

Our Superhero is now flying through an aurora. The sun sends bursts of charged solar particles that can travel 150 million km to reach Earth. Those particles react with the magnetic field and the atmosphere. We see the reaction as auroras.

Flashes of lights

Even as he shuts his eyes, he notices the flashes of lights as the particles can pass through the eyeball and react with atoms in his body.

Expanding heroics

The liquids in our Superhero’s body are still boiling (except his blood) and his body is expanding as he travels further from Earth.
No. It’s not the suit.
No. It’s not the suit. It’s you, Superhero.
As the air gets thinner, the air inside his body expands, causing our Superhero to puff up around twice his size as he travels through the vacuum. Human tissue is very flexible, so he won’t explode – unless this were a Hollywood movie.

Holding your breath is dangerous

Holding the breath is also a bad idea. This is because any remaining air would rapidly expand rupturing the lungs.

No immidiate freezing

It is also really cold, but our superhero doesn’t freeze, not because he is super, but due to the vacuum which caues the heat to transfer from his body very slowly.
Without his super healing ability, the lack of oxygen here would have caused Superhero to lose his consciousness within 15 seconds. Death would have happened a few minutes later. But he can’t die so…

Let it go

On Earth, you can feel the urge to pee when pressure on the bottom of the bladder increases. This doesn’t happen in space. There is no gravity, so fluids float freely. You may start to feel it when it reaches maximum capacity, but by then, you’re already flowing.

Is it safe to burp?

Gravity also weighs down the solids in your stomach, keeping them there unless there is major upheaval. In space, solids and gasses mix around in the stomach and a burp can quite easily turn into vomit.

408 km - The ISS

Company! Our Superhero is lucky enough to fly by the International Space Station – one of humanity’s largest feats of engineering, technology and science.
It circles the Earth every 90 minutes at 28,800 km/h and the international astronauts living on the station see 16 sunrises and sunsets every day.

500 km - Burning and freezing

For the next 10,000 kilometers, our Superher travels through the atmospheric layer that is the border to outer space. Any parts of his body that are in the sun feel super hot while anything in the shadows feels super cold. Spaceships also have this problem, causing the body material to warp.

Space radiation

Our Superhero continues his journey to the moon, exposing himself to space radiation. Its energy can break down DNA, causing cell damage. This can cause a wide range of symptoms from diarrhea and nausea to central nervous systems or even death.

Brain space

Weightlessness is also known to change the brain structure of astronauts who have spent time in zero gravity. There appears to be increased cerebrospinal fluid and an upward shift of the brain within the skull which can cause changes in cognitive brain function.

800 km - Space junk

There are more than 500,000 pieces of debris being tracked in orbit around Earth, most of it 800 to 850 km away from Earth. »Space junk« can travel at speeds of 28,000 km/h. Even something as small can pose a risk to shuttles traveling through this trash heap. Even something as small as a paint chip can cause a space shuttle window to chip in a collision.

1000 km - Still far away

Our Superhero has come a long way, but the moon is still about 384,400 km away, which is like walking the length of the Great Wall of China 45 times. It took Apollo 11 a total of 75 hours and 56 minutes to reach the moon.

10,000 km - The outer space

We have fast-forwarded as our Superhero officially reaches outer space. He’s surrounded by a cold vacuum. There is no breathable air. Yet, he still has to watch out for obstacles – there is gast, bits of matter and dust floating around here.

12,000 km - Movement in space

Our Superhero is proving Newton’s third law of motion as he flies through space. Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. His flying ability to fly super fast pushes him through space by propelling away from the wake of his super power.

178,000 km - Halfway to the moon

Our Superhero sees the moon, but he’s only halfway there. On Earth, the horizon limits what we can see to about 5 km.

Seeing the moon

We can see something as far away as the moon because its so big. Cone cells are stimulated by the light the moon but only perceive objects big enough to stimulate two adjacent cone cells.

200,000 km - Getting closer

As our superhero flies with the speed of scrolling, he gets closer and closer.

355,600 km - The moon

Only 12 humans (and now our fictional Superhero) have ever walked on the moon’s surface, but moon landings were stopped in 1972, when funding and enthusiasm were redirected.
The gravity here is one-sixth of that on Earth and there is no atmosphere so no heat gets trapped. It can be 123°C during the day to -223°C at night.

Don't die in space

Our Superhero can’t die in space because he can’t die, but if he were to die, his body won't decompose. This is not a superhero ability, but due the the fact that there is no oxygen to facilitate decomposition, leaving his body to float through the universe for millions of years.

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