The science maintains that every action done in the space and earth has a different outcome as the atmosphere is quite different at the two places. While earth atmosphere has oxygen and sound can be heard, Space lacks both oxygen and sound, which is integral for igniting and sustaining the weapon. In such a situation, it would be interesting to know, Can one really shot a gun in the space and what would happen if a gun is shot into space?
Beyond the physics of firing, shooting a gun in the space with vacuum and no oxygen is possible, as the gunpowder or bullet used are oxidized and capable of self-ignition that can trigger the explosion. Despite the fact, the explosive is less responsive in vacuum space without oxygen propelling, shot a gun in the space can prove to be more fatal than the shooting of a gun on earth since there is no air, friction and gravitational pull that can act against the bullet.
In such a scenario bullet travels freely for hours and days until a cosmic object hit and hurdles its path. There are many such different experiences being felt when shot a gun into space. Let’s comprehend and compare each in detail below.
The first difference can be observed in the smoke trail formed on triggering the gun. Peter Schultz, astronomer and researcher states that when the trigger is pulled in the space, unlike earth, there will be expanding the sphere of smoke emerging from the barrel tip.
Secondly, considering a space environment, under the same process of shooting, there will be no sound of the gunshot being heard in the space. As space is full of vacuum, it does not allow sound wave to travel and thus nothing is being heard as a blast sound that is being heard on the earth when a gun is shot.
Thirdly, in the space, upon triggering and shooting the gun, the shooter will feel the jerk. It might also be a case that the shooter would be flying against the bullet direction, due to the conservation of momentum and lack of gravitational pull in the space.
For instance, the bullet is observed to leave the barrel of the gun at the speed of 1000m/s than a massive shooter will move in opposite direction to bullet with a speed of few centimeters per second. While on earth, following Newton’s third law, ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’, shooter experiences jerk of the same magnitude as the bullet moves forwards but he/she remains grounded due to earth’s gravitational pull.
Matija Cuk, an astronaut maintains that unlike earth, when a bullet is fired in the space, due to low gravitational force and friction, the bullet might not stop. Due to lack of obstacle or gravitational pull, it may remain in its motion for a very long time period and get engulfed in the planet orbit.
There might be the case that the bullet picks-up the stream and start maintaining orbital swing and attain a constant state of free fall, hitting the shooter in his/her back. It is observed by the astronauts that if a bullet is shot at 1600m/s speed from the lunar mountaintop at the horizon, one can shot himself/herself instantly.
Fifthly, as per, the US army conducted the study on the weapons in the space, with the title, “The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Such as the Moon”; the muzzle velocity is higher in the space than the earth. However, the bullet in the space is observed to maintain the same speed and trajectory as on earth. But, the distance traveled by the bullet in the space will be very different from the earth.
On earth as gravitational pull would be acting on the bullet would be resisting its movement, the bullet will fall down soon after traveling few miles in the air. However, as space lacks gravitational pull and friction, the bullet becomes aerodynamic. It remains in the motion for a longer time and at times it may continue to travel in the vacuum for years until it encounters a drag or realizes a hit or obstruction from a cosmic object.
Apart from these, scientifically due to vacuum and no air in the space, in the scenario of soaring high temperature and combustion level, the gun might get overheated and destruct the barrel. When a gun is triggered, heat is generated which on earth gets dissipate through the process of conduction, convection, and radiation.
However, in the space, as there is no air to convect the heat from the barrel and slow radiation process, the barrel might get overheated and destroyed or cartridge may randomly explode, injuring the shooter or the floating astronaut. Also, in the vacuum, the gun lubrication may boil-off that can seize the other reciprocating elements of the gun.
Despite, all these facts, Russian cosmonauts are believed to be traveling in the space with a gun for the safety purposes upon landing in the treacherous area. There, Salyut/Almaz space station had a variant of a Richter R-23 recoilless autocannon. Also, they are known to have successfully placed and tested cannon of 23mm outside a space station. However, no other country yet has stationed any arms and weapons in the space.
The above facts, surely, bust the myth that one cannot shot a gun in the space. Definitely, traditional guns cannot be shot in the space but the modern gun with self-oxidized primers and gunpowder can easily be shot in the space. However, the experience of shooting a gun while floating in the space is quite different than firing on earth. It’s more damaging and requires a lot of precaution. Thus, no other country other than Russia, have stationed and tested the shot a gun in the space yet. But, this is for a while only, going by the scenario it is difficult to consider space a weapon free zone.