The Bug #2: ambient noise (in space)

When you talk about silence and the cold war, you quickly talk about satellites and the space race. So tonight’s topic is silence in space. Space is supposed to be silent, right? In space, no one can hear you scream?

The reality of music and space is not of course as romantic as the Hollywood depiction would make us think. And you won’t be surprised to hear that while there is a lot of noise and our experience of space, there is not very much music. Actually when you’re in a spaceship, there’s always ambient noise.

On a real space station, as for example the ISS (International Space Station), there are a lot of background noises. Most of these are noises of the air handling system. As you can imagine this is of crucial importance in keeping the astronauts alive. Air has to circulate and it has to be cleaned. Which is a very complicated and energy intensive operation. It is also noisy. In the early days of the space station the noise was so intense that astronauts suffered temporary hearing loss, psychological difficulties, and general disorientation. This was most pronounced for the Russian astronauts who lived in the Soyuz space capsule which frankly was just a big tin can. Gradually, these issues have been addressed as scientists become aware just how bad the effects could be on astronauts from too much background noise. Especially the whistling, humming, and wheezing of the life-support systems. 

Tonight’s show talks about the reality and the fiction of silence in space.

And it’s all a preview of my talk which I’ll be giving at Tufts University on April 24th, 2019, at 12:15pm in the Art Gallery.

Join me then!

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