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Preventing “The Bends” In Spacewalks


Interesting Facts in Easy English

  • camp out: to spend a lot of time in one location
  • cabin pressure: the controlled pressure of air used to create a comfortable and safe environment in an enclosed space at high altitudes
  • nitrogen: a colourless, odourless gas required in all living matter 
  • extravehicular: outside of a vehicle
  • dissolve: to become a liquid
  • joint: body part that connects to other body parts and allows movement (e.g. the knee)
  • paralysis: inability to move
  • stiff: rigid; unable to bend

Preventing “The Bends” In Spacewalks

Before astronauts go on spacewalks, they often camp out  in a special compartment called an airlock. The cabin pressure is reduced in the airlock, allowing astronauts to get rid of the nitrogen in their blood and tissues. Another option is to pure oxygen for at least four hours before the extravehicular activity (EVA). If astronauts didn’t take the time to dissolve the nitrogen before   the spacecraft, they could get gas bubbles in their joints. This decompression sickness is called “the bends” and can cause severe pain, paralysis, or even death. It often happens to scuba divers who rise to the surface too quickly. In 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexey Leonov was the first person to take a spacewalk. He almost got  of his spacecraft because his suit became highly pressurized and stiff. Leonov got stuck in the hatch, and had to lower the pressure of his suit in order to get inside. This was a  procedure because it could have caused him to suffer from “the bends”. Many important lessons were learned from the first spacewalk.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What do astronauts need to do before taking a spacewalk?
  2. What is the common name for decompression sickness?
  3. What went wrong during the first spacewalk?

Discussion Questions: How are scuba diving and space walking similar? Which would you rather do, walk on the moon or explore the seafloor?

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