Yes, astronauts can chew gum in space, but there are some important factors to consider. Gum behaves differently in the microgravity environment of space. The lack of gravity prevents saliva and gum from flowing down the throat. This means chewing gum in space can create globules and blobs of gum that float around the spacecraft. Astronauts have to be careful to contain any gum they chew. Special space gum has been developed that is designed not to glob up in microgravity conditions.
What Happens to Gum in Space?
On Earth, when we chew gum the natural flow of saliva due to gravity helps prevent it from sticking in the mouth. In the microgravity environment of space, saliva and gum have nothing to make them flow naturally out of the mouth. This means chewing normal gum in space can cause globs of gum to break free and float around the interior of a spacecraft.
Without gravity, gum and saliva can coat the mouth, throat and even lungs, creating a dangerous choking hazard. Floating blobs of gooey gum can also get stuck in air vents and equipment inside a spacecraft, which could damage sensitive electronics.
Astronauts have reported gum acting strangely during spaceflights. On some missions where regular gum was allowed, astronauts had issues with globs of gum floating through the air and sticking on walls. The gum posed a nuisance as it was difficult to clean up in microgravity.
Safety Issues With Gum in Space
The hazards posed by globs of floating gum are serious enough that spacecraft engineers and mission planners have had to address the gum issue specifically when planning for spaceflights:
– Choking hazard – gum can potentially coat the mouth and throat if not properly contained.
– Blocked airways – crew members could inhale globs of gum into their lungs.
– Equipment contamination – gum getting stuck in important equipment can lead to malfunctions.
– Vehicle maintenance – gum residue floating around can make housekeeping and cleaning more difficult.
So while gum is not strictly banned on spaceflights, astronauts have to be very careful with gum and make sure it is disposed of properly. Special gum formulations have been developed for space to reduce the floating blob effect.
Space Gum Technologies
Various space agencies and commercial companies have worked on creating gum that minimizes the risks of chewing gum in microgravity. Some of the innovations in space gum technology include:
– Using edible dissolvable wrappers – This contains the gum until it is fully dissolved.
– Anti-adherent coatings – These prevent globs of gum from sticking to surfaces.
– Using xylitol or other sugar-free gum bases – Xylitol gum does not form globs as readily as gum with sugar.
– Mint flavored gum – Mint flavoring appears to reduce gum blobs compared to fruit flavors.
– Containing gum residue – Built-in air filters help trap and contain gum residue.
– Special disposal bags – Astronauts can spit gum directly into sealed disposal bags.
– Limiting gum – Mission planners often limit the amount of gum brought on a spaceflight.
With the right gum formulation and policies, astronauts can still enjoy the benefits of chewing gum without gum particles gumming up the works in space.
Benefits of Chewing Gum in Space
Here are some of the benefits astronauts get from chewing gum in space:
– Stress relief – Chewing gum can help relieve tension and anxiety.
– Oral hygiene – Chewing gum increases saliva production which can reduce bacteria buildup.
– Alertness – The act of chewing helps astronauts stay attentive during tasks.
– Enjoyment – Variety in treats like gum improves life for astronauts on long missions.
– Fresh breath – Gum helps keep breath fresh in the enclosed spacecraft environment.
– Jaw exercise – Using jaw muscles prevents atrophy in microgravity.
So with the right precautions, gum can be both an enjoyable treat and provide health benefits to astronauts in space.
Famous Space Gum Incidents
There are a few notorious incidents of gum causing issues during space missions:
– In 1993, a blob of gum got stuck in a key control panel onboard the Russian Mir space station leading to an emergency landing.
– Astronaut Tom Marshburn had an epic gum blob incident during a spacewalk in 2009. His gum migrated out of his mouth and coated his helmet visor, obscuring vision.
– Astronauts have reported having to pick errant floating gum globs out of the air during Skylab missions in the 1970s.
These and other gum episodes have led to stricter gum policies on spaceflights. But today’s improved space gum means astronauts can enjoy chewing without the mess.
Space Agencies’ Rules on Gum
Because of the potential hazards, space agencies have specific policies regarding gum during missions:
– Allows gum but limits amount each astronaut can bring
– Requires specially formulated gum designed not to glob
– Astronauts must spit gum directly into disposal bags
– Unwrapped gum pieces are prohibited
Russian Space Program
– Long banned gum entirely after Mir space station incident
– Recently allowed specially formulated gum in foil wrappers
– Cosmonauts must fully dissolve and swallow gum after chewing
– Allows gum but limits the amount
– Requires fully wrapping gum pieces
– Astronauts must use special airflow filters when chewing
China National Space Administration
– No official policy but appears to restrict gum due to mess concerns
– Taikonauts undergo strict hygiene procedures that may prohibit gum chewing
So most agencies now allow gum but with limitations on things like quantity and disposal.
Can Astronauts Blow Bubbles With Gum in Space?
Blowing bubbles with bubblegum in space is theoretically possible but comes with some concerns:
– The lack of gravity means bubbles won’t rise but rather blob together into larger masses.
– Floating bubble blobs could get stuck in important equipment.
– Bubble gum flavors tend to make the gum effect even worse.
– It would be difficult to properly dispose offloating bubble gum blobs.
– Exhaling with force to blow a bubble could expel more floating saliva and gum residue.
– Bubble gum is sticky and likely to coat astronauts’ mouths and throats.
So while it might be fun, blowing big bubbles is probably not the best idea on a space mission. Astronauts would need to be extremely careful, perhaps blowing bubbles inside an air filter system. Special ultra-tensile space bubble gum would also need to be developed to minimize blobs. But for now, it’s best to avoid blowing bubbles in microgravity.
Biggest Space Gum Blob
The biggest documented space gum blob rates as Tom Marshburn’s notorious gum incident during a spacewalk in 2009. Marshburn’s gum escaped his mouth and coated the inside of his helmet visor, obscuring vision. During the six-hour spacewalk, the gum accumulated into a blob estimated at 5 cubic inches in size, making it the current record holder for largest gum blob in space.
Thankfully with current gum precautions, this record is unlikely to be broken anytime soon. Space agencies don’t want globs of gum interfering with important work aboard spacecraft.
Can You Swallow Gum in Space?
Yes, it is possible to swallow gum in space just like on Earth. However, here are some things to keep in mind:
– Swallowing minimizes release of floating gum blobs and residue.
– Gum takes longer to digest in zero gravity conditions.
– Swallowed gum can glob up in the stomach without gravity to direct digestive contents downward.
– Space motion sickness could cause issues with swallowed gum.
– Without water to help wash it down, gum can adhere to the esophagus.
So while swallowing gum in space is possible, it comes with some increased risks compared to Earth. Most agencies recommend spitting gum out into a disposal bag rather than swallowing it. But swallowed gum will still eventually pass normally through the digestive system.
Fun Facts About Gum in Space
Chewing gum has a unique history among space foods. Here are some interesting fun facts:
– John Glenn was the first American astronaut to snack on gum during orbit in the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule in 1962.
– Space gum was provided to astronauts starting in the late 1960s with specialized formulations to avoid crumbs.
– Each space shuttle flight carried about 800-1000 pieces of gum for astronauts.
– Both mints and gum can improve bad breath but gum is more effective according to research.
– It takes longer to digest gum in space with digestion slowed in microgravity.
– Astronauts have to chew gum slowly and carefully to avoid choking hazards from globs.
– Fruit flavors like cherry or orange gum tend to glob up the most in space.
– Astronauts have attached gobbed up gum to walls as pranks on space stations.
– Space gum has been tested in zero gravity parabolic flights on ‘Vomit Comet’ planes.
So while chewing gum in space can be a sticky situation, astronauts think it’s a worthwhile treat during long missions. With proper precautions, they can enjoy the benefits of chewing gum without the mess.
Chewing gum in the microgravity environment of space can be tricky but with the right precautions astronauts can still enjoy it as a textural treat during long missions. Specially designed space gum, dissolvable wrappers, and air filters all help minimize the mess and hazards of globs of floating saliva and gum. While blowing big bubbles is probably not advisable, chewing minty space-approved gum provides benefits like oral hygiene, stress relief, and jaw exercise without compromising equipment or safety. So yes, astronauts can and do chew gum in space thanks to science and technology efforts to make it safer and more pleasant for crews far from home. With some common sense precautions, chewing gum remains an enjoyable snack and oral hygiene habit even for those orbiting the Earth.