On August 30, 2018, a hole was found in the Soyuz Orbital Module on the ISS. Astronaut Alexander Gerst initially plugged it with his thumb, meaning a part of his bare skin touched space. I can't find any other instances of someone touching the vacuum of space with his or her bare skin, except for the Soyuz 11 crew who died. Was Alexander Gerst the first person to touch space with his bare skin and live?

  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't one of the first suborbital/orbital flights by a man who wasn't in a properly pressurized vessel? Meaning he was basically subjected to the depressurized environment for a few seconds before he immediately began descending to save his own life? Needs verification, I cannot remember his name nor the vessel he flew on, will try to find where this was stated on this site (I believe it was sourced). $\endgroup$ Sep 4 '18 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ That would be interesting, but not quite space. Still. Hmmm... Looking around, there has been a few high altitude, but not actually by any reasonable definition outside the atmosphere incidences. geoffreylandis.com/vacuum.html $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Sep 4 '18 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn: Since it's just one atmosphere of pressure inside the ISS, it's safe to plug the hole with your bare skin. Just a bit uncomfortable after a while. Scott Manley linked a video regarding this. $\endgroup$
    – DarkDust
    Sep 4 '18 at 18:38
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    $\begingroup$ @DarkDust I am picturing an thumb-sized hole where there would be significant thumb outside of the station (guessing that would've been much more of a problem though), statement retracted. Interesting video link too. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Sep 4 '18 at 19:23
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn "touch space" seems a bit tricky to define. If the outer hull wasn't pressurised, then even if it blocked a direct line of sight to the outside world, it was still vacuum... $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Sep 5 '18 at 18:08

No. It occurred previously on STS-37 in 1991. During an EVA, a glove was punctured; the astronaut's hand almost immediately sealed the hole. They didn't notice (remarkable as that sounds) until after flight; there's a brief mention of it on the page PearsonArtPhoto linked to in comments:

"...the palm restraint in one of the astronaut's gloves came loose and migrated until it punched a hole in the pressure bladder between his thumb and forefinger. It was not explosive decompression, just a little 1/8 inch [3 mm] hole, but it was exciting down here in the swamp because it was the first injury we've ever head from a suit incident. Amazingly, the astronaut in question didn't even know the puncture had occured; he was so hopped on adrenalin it wasn't until after he got back in that he even noticed there was a painful red mark on his hand. He figured his glove was chafing and didn't worry about it.... What happened: when the metal bar punctured the glove, the skin of the astronaut's hand partially sealed the opening. He bled into space, and at the same time his coagulating blood sealed the opening enough that the bar was retained inside the hole."

Mission report:

The EV2 crewman reported during postflight debriefings that following the second EVA and after removal of the gloves, the right-hand index finger had an abrasion about 3/4 inch [2 cm] behind the metacarpal knuckle. The postflight inspection of the right-hand glove revealed that the palm bar was penetrating through the restraint and glove bladder into the index finger side of the glove approximately [5?]/8 inch [1.6 cm] (Flight Problem STS-37-V-19). The glove leakage rate with the palm bar in the failed position was 3.8 sccm of air as compared with the specification rate of 8.0 sccm. Had the palm bar come out of the hole during the EVA, the leak rate would not have been great enough to activate the secondary oxygen pack. The primary oxygen system would have maintained satisfactory suit pressure, and would also have displayed a high oxygen usage rate indication.

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    $\begingroup$ Technically "No" would sound better against the title (but that's semantics), amazing how blood coagulating could seal a hole like that. May also be worthy of note that the typed sections are on page 16. $\endgroup$ Sep 4 '18 at 22:54

This supplemental answer addresses how dangerous "touching space" would be in the context of a small hole.

The vacuum of space is not much different than the vacuum of a vacuum pump from the point of view of a finger over a small hole.

Watching Scott Manley for a few minutes in the first video you'll see he mentions the second video, which shows a screen shot of Manley's idea to "touch space".

Mechanical roughing pumps similar to the one in the video can probably produce about 50 milliTorr absolute. The video says the pressure differential is 12 psi because 12 psi is the absolute pressure at the altitude where this video was recorded.

Was the finger damaged?

Spoiler alert: hover your cursor over the box to reveal the answer.

No fingers were injured in the filming of this video

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    $\begingroup$ But it is possible to injure other parts of the body with a much lower pressure difference, see hickey. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Oct 23 '18 at 12:10

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