I was reading the question asked here in regards the Alexander Gerst's patching of a small (5mm) hole with his thumb temporarily. This got me wondering, if his thumb was only fine because the majority of it was part of the ISS atmosphere, at what point would it not be okay to do this?

Two main scenarios come to mind that have me intrigued:

Ignoring that the hull is likely too thick to support either of these scenarios...

If the hole were the size of his finger-tip and he plugged it such that the entirety of his finger-tip was through the hole, would the results be different? Would his finger tip sustain more damage?

What about simply sticking your thumb through a hole that was created for a thumb to be stuck through it, with a perfect seal between the interior and the exterior of the ISS?

Alternatively, more simply put, where would the damage stop? At the hull interior?

Is the thickness of the hull the only thing that saved him from damage-- the fact that he wasn't actually "outside" of the ISS "atmosphere" at any point?

Looking for the limitations in this question. What would happen over the course of:

  • 5 minutes?
  • 1 hour?
  • 10 days?
  • As much time as it needed to fuse you to the hull?
  • Where would it stop, would it?
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    $\begingroup$ Space vacuum isn't any worse than a decent vacuum on earth. Supported skin is vacuum proof for at least a while. Unsupported skin starts bruising pretty fast and broken blood vessels happen if the area exposed is large. A thumb exposed to vacuum would swell and start to take damage, but a few minutes probably wouldn't do anything that wouldn't heal. $\endgroup$ – zeta-band Sep 4 '18 at 21:08
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of the old Robert Heinlein story "Gentlemen, Be Seated" where a leak is patched temporarily with a...different....anatomical part. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 4 '18 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn It's a old story, probably from the 40s, and only mildly ribald. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 4 '18 at 21:15
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble found a wiki summary of it (for those wondering). Seems like it wouldn't work so well if you, erm, split the difference... so to speak. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Sep 4 '18 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ What I imagine your first suspicion was, was addressed in the Shuttle inflight maintenance checklist (sadly not online) for the case of setting up a urinal which exhausted directly to vacuum. It included the immortal line "WARNING - DO NOT HARD DOCK" $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Sep 4 '18 at 21:18

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