Would it be possible (not necessarily plausible) for an astronaut to bring a paperback novel along on a mission and accidentally leave it in space somehow?

Would an astronaut even be allowed to bring such a thing on a mission?

What would happen to the book over time (e.g. would it stay preserved, orbit as space trash)?

Thank you.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't it be possible? If there's a spatula and a whole toolbox floating in low Earth orbit that were lost by Space Shuttle astronauts, why wouldn't it be possible for some flight manual? Or, even a children's book collectspace.com/images/news-052114a-lg.jpg Answering the rest of your question depends on which region it would be left to "float" at and at what relative velocity with regard to other objects and the environment. E.g. in LEO, it would likely soon oxidize due to atomic oxygen. Please clarify what exactly you want to ask. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Aug 1 '14 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @TildalWave. Say at an altitude of 340 km and moving at a lower velocity than other objects/environment. $\endgroup$
    – Jax
    Aug 1 '14 at 12:01

Astronauts on most missions are allowed to bring personal items with them. Depending on what kind of mission, there are of course limits on mass and volume for their personal luggage. However, a paperback book would fit into the parameters of most missions. So an astronaut bringing a novel into space as a personal item is plausible.

However, the question is how this item would get into open space. Most missions avoid putting anything into orbit to avoid unnecessary space debris. Trash is usually collected and sent back to earth. The ISS uses the expendable Progress transport capsules for this purpose, which then burn up in the atmosphere. So the only way for a book to end up in orbit would be by accident.

It could happen that the book ends up in the airlock during an EVA and leaves the vessel this way. However, this would be quite a sign of negligence to have unexpected objects in an airlock. Using an airlock for an EVA is a very dangerous activity, so the airlock should be checked beforehand.

It could also happen due to a catastrophic accident on the vessel. A loss of cabin pressure through a large enough hole could cause some loose items to get blown into space. A collision with debris could cause this kind of damage. Such an event would also be likely to cause the destruction of the vessel and the demise of the crewmembers on board.

Regarding the book itself: In either case it would end up in an orbit very similar to that of the vessel which lost it. When that orbit is high enough to avoid atmospheric friction (the ISS orbit would not), it could stay there for a very long time as another piece of space debris. However, the strong sun radiation would likely cause the paper and ink to bleach, so it might not be readable anymore after a few decades.

  • $\begingroup$ A few decades? That sounds like quite a long time to me. Hmm... maybe next summer I'll leave an old paperback book out in the sun and see what happens. My guess is the glue would give up pretty quickly, so you end up with a bunch of loose pages whirling ahead at 25,000 km/h or so. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 1 '14 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling That won't be an adequate test. Earths atmosphere filters out a lot of sunlight. Without a protecting atmosphere, the light of the sun is much more aggressive. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ While it is true that it wouldn't be perfect, I doubt the book would fare better in space (assuming it can be adequately protected from rain, for example). That said, I don't have any books I'm willing to sacrifice, so it's unlikely to happen anyway. ;) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 1 '14 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ Is sun bleaching as we are familiar with it solely from UV, or is it UV+oxidation? If oxygen has a role in the familiar form of sun bleaching, then UV in an airless environment, apart from considerations of intensity, would produce a different effect. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Aug 2 '14 at 14:09

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