One question I really wanna ask; do spaceship's rot?

If they do degrade, does being on Mars, on The Moon, or in space increase the rotting speed of the spaceship? If so, in which environment would degradation be most rapid?

  • $\begingroup$ Do you ask about rotting or rotating? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Oct 22 '19 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ If by "rot" you mean "degrade", in the sense that they eventually become less effective and possibly even stop working, then yes, spacecraft do. The space environment is really harsh. Really, really harsh. Which planet you're on will make a huge difference. If that's what you mean, we can edit the question to be more clear $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Oct 22 '19 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ 90% sure they mean rot from the context. Not rotate. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Oct 22 '19 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ I think so as well, so I've made an edit. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 23 '19 at 3:38
  • $\begingroup$ I asked about rotting but thanks I think I'm getting there $\endgroup$ – Kaosi ChijiokeAgina Oct 23 '19 at 15:47

Spacecraft don't rot, nor do they rust (since there is not enough free oxygen anywhere but Earth), but they do degrade in various ways:

  • The most obvious is that chemical and electrical equipment like batteries and on-board computers are severely degraded by the extreme cold and variations of temperature that happen.

  • Electrical equipment is also damaged by the constant bombardment of radiation and charged particles, especially in areas of intense radiation like around Jupiter or Earth's Van Allen belts.

  • The temperature cycling also degrades plastics and stresses the metal components of the spacecraft.

  • High levels of ultraviolet radiation outside protective atmospheres will also degrade plastics and will bleach dyes. The Apollo flags, for instance, are almost certainly sun-bleached close to white by now.

  • Over time joints that should move will seize, because materials (especially metals) tend to 'stick' to each other in vacuum.

  • In open space spacecraft will over geolocial time be eroded by micrometeoroids and solar wind particles. This constant bombardment over few billion years is what has turned the surface of the Moon into fine dust.

  • On Mars spacecraft will be eroded slightly faster by geological activity, mainly fine sandblasting by the winds.

  • On Venus spacecraft will be exposed to extreme temperatures, pressure and highly corrosive atmosphere. Non-corrosion resistant metals will be eaten away by the sulphuric acid in the atmosphere in relatively short order.

Many of these effects are very slow acting. It takes decades for a spacecraft to be visibly deteriorated in most environments (and even then it's mostly superficial cosmetic damage) and geological eons to be severely structurally degraded. Except for Venus, which is probably the most hostile place for man-made objects in the solar system.


One question I really wanna ask; do spaceship's rot?

Sort of, yes. In terms of "rotting", in the sense that a spacecraft will lose material or undergo degradation of its material components, then spacecraft do encounter this problem in the space environment for a variety of reasons.

One big reason is atomic oxygen (that is, O, not O2), which is present in the atmosphere of Earth (I do not know about other planets in the case of atomic oxygen). Oxygen is extremely reactive unless it is in O2 (and even then...). It is seriously bad if your spacecraft is made of certain things, but we have developed coatings and other materials to combat it. More information here, among other places.

However, if you question about "rotting" is meant literally - that is, in the sense that a spacecraft is affected by the biological activity of a microorganism, then I do not believe there are any documented cases of this happening, but I could be wrong.

There are other effects that cause a spacecraft to degrade as well, but in different ways than just losing material. For instance, high energy radiation can significantly damage computers and other semiconductor devices, essentially making them useless after a certain lifetime. Where you are in space greatly affects this. For instance, in Jupiter orbit you really need excellent shielding due to its intense magnetic field trapping high energy particles, but in low Earth orbit you need less shielding due to Earth's protective magnetic field. Radiation degradation also depends on total dose over time, so a one day, low-Earth orbit mission can be handled with little to no shielding if one so desired.

Depending on where your spacecraft lands, it can degrade in other ways. For instance, landing on Venus causes problems with spacecraft because it's probably the worst place for technology in the solar system. Soviet Venus landing missions' lifetimes were often measured in minutes, if they got to the surface at all. This was mainly due to the crushing atmosphere, but I expect that if you landed a probe on Venus and it survived the pressure for long enough the temperature would get it sooner or later.

So, yes, a spacecraft will degrade, and in many, many ways.

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    $\begingroup$ I've made a clarifying edit to the question, but I don't think it affects your answer. +1 $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 23 '19 at 3:38

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