Count the errors....
PopSci.com tries to explain whether conventional firearms work in outer space.
Egad. Let's see, primers give off sparks, most but not all of the gunpowder's oxygen comes from its own composition, which uses saltpeter, recoil would be worse because there's no air resistance to slow the bullet...
Yes, firearms work in space. No, you folks haven't a freaking clue about how modern firearms actually work.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 7, 2009 03:03 PM
INSTAPUNDIT asked, too. Link
Posted by: USCitizen at March 7, 2009 03:10 PM
It looks like Popsci pulled it once it hit instapundit and people started making fun of their errors.
The errors in the comments were also about as comical.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 7, 2009 03:20 PM
I think this qualifies as fair use because it's so riddled with errors that it is useless as information and has no positive market value. Showing it in its entirety is however legitimate critical inquiry.
Can Guns Fire In Space?
FYI: Sometimes you just need to know
By Greg Soltis Posted 03.06.2009 at 4:04 pm
The explosion that fires a bullet does require oxygen for combustion, but it doesn’t draw it solely from the air. Rather, some oxygen comes from an ingredient in the gunpowder itself, called saltpeter or potassium nitrate. The spark produced when the gun’s hammer strikes the cartridge ignites the saltpeter and converts the oxygen in it to its gaseous state. This explosion generates a shock wave that propels the bullet out of the gun, says Thomas Eagar, a materials engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—no atmosphere necessary. (Eagar suggests packing your cartridges with extra saltpeter to get the same pop in space.)
Now, before unloading your six-shooter in space, get a good grip on something solid. Thanks to Newton’s Third Law—that’s the one concerning reciprocal actions—the kickback that normally throws your arm backward after you fire a round would instead send your entire body flying backward. Because there’s nothing to slow the bullet in a zero-gravity vacuum, it would travel much faster and farther than it does on Earth. And so would you.
Choose your gun wisely. Theodore Gray, Popular Science’s resident metals expert, worries that the cold temperature in space might prevent the lead bullet from conforming to the grooves in a rifle’s barrel and cause it to get stuck. “If I were shooting guns in space,” he says, “I’d stick to a shotgun.”
Posted by: Critic at March 7, 2009 03:55 PM
Science is not a strong suit of journalists. If it were, there would be no debate about the AGW hoax.
Posted by: bill-tb at March 7, 2009 05:18 PM
"recoil would be worse because there's no air resistance to slow the bullet.."
What? Once the bullet leaves the barrel that's the end of the 'recoil' that's mass x velocity. The slowing will come after it's left the barrel.
Sounds like a reporter that knows little science (which is par for the course.)
Posted by: Paul at March 7, 2009 06:23 PM
In addition to the courses "Kinetics and Thermodynamics" and "Essentials of Engineering" the consultant for this article, Thomas Eagars, teaches a course at MIT titled "Colossal Failures"
Posted by: Critic at March 7, 2009 09:25 PM
How appropriate for him.
"shock wave" ... dear lord. I guess nobody understands boyle's law and the effects of expanding gasses.
And apparently popsci's metalurgist hasn't ever heard of conductive heating.
Kickback is there, but human bodies are pretty heavy ... kickback can be overcome with proper posture.
Modern ammo is tight enough to easily hold 1 atmosphere inside a round ... not that it really needs to ( except MAYBE to prevent damage in long term storage ). Couldn't they have at least asked a chemist about how a lead styphinate primer works, or an explanation of the the reactions in detonated guncotton and double-based propellants?
Jebus ... what idjits.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 8, 2009 02:33 AM
I suspect that the two largest differences would be that sights are adjusted to compensate for bullet drop so in space the bullet would follow an infinite line of sight trajectory until it encountered a gravitational well,easily fixed by adjusting one's sights, more disconcerting would be your body's tendency to rotate around it's center of mass due to recoil forces, muzzle flip would become muzzle spin. I would probably want to keep any firearm out of direct sunlight, would a Glock frame warp at the extreme temperature swing as it passed into and out of sunlight?
Posted by: Peterp at March 8, 2009 10:32 AM
This is one of the glaring technical errors in Firefly -- Jayne thought he had to "dress up" his favorite rifle "Vera" in a space suit to get her to fire in vacuum. That little gaffe caught quite a lot of flack in the forums at the time.
Posted by: djmoore at March 8, 2009 11:22 AM
Uh, excuse me gentlemen. Yes, a traditional firearm would function in space. Here on earth, what is basically a sealed system works just fine. Being sealed means that atmosphere has very little to do with ignition and expansion of gases, though it has great effect on ballistics, trajectory, velocity, drift etc., etc.
However, I would not want to be the one to fire such a firearm in space unless I were in a heated environment. No space suit would protect you when the supercooled crystallized metal of the weapon shattered at the introduction of violent forces. Remember that space is basically at near or absolute zero degrees. A major malfunction of the materials of the weapon would be guaranteed as they are composed today.
So yeah, you could fire it,and no telling how much shredding it would to any and every thing in its proximity.
Posted by: straightarrow at March 8, 2009 01:56 PM
Rather than explosively-driven projectiles, a rocket-assisted projectile such as the GyroJet would be more suited to outer space. IIRC, the GyroJet round achieved somewhere just shy of 1,000 fps, but in the vacuum of space, would likely achieve considerably more due to lack of air resistance.
The GyroJet used a significant proportion of it's fuel to spin the projectile to high rotational speed. In space, with less gravity and no atmosphere, more of the fuel could be used to propel the round forward.
Rocket-launcher tubes for such rounds would not be so critical for metallurgy.
Posted by: Rivrdog at March 8, 2009 06:32 PM
Straightarrow: You are making the same mistake the 'tard at popsci did. At least this ain't your MOS, so you have an excuse.
Conductive heating > radiated heat loss.
Don't want the firearm to get cold? Wear it on a belt or sling. Conductive heat from touching the outside of your suit will keep it warm enough to function properly.
Vacuum makes a GREAT insulator ... ever heard of a vacuum flask? Thermos makes them.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 9, 2009 01:05 PM
Well with space suits as big as they are and heated anyway... a heated holster should work great.
Also remember to enlarge the trigger guard or you wont be firing anything with those big gloved fingers those suits have.
Posted by: GeorgiaPacking at March 9, 2009 01:40 PM
At near absolute zero wearing a firearm on the outside of your insulated suit will not keep it warm enough to sustain its structural integrity under the application of such forces.
A warming scabbard or some such might do the trick, but that just introduces more complication to the systems. More complications means more chance for a systems failure.
If you wish to try it, dip your pistol in liquid nitrogen then fire it. But let me get clear first. If you really think conductive heating will short-circuit the likely consequences, wear it on your hip outside an adequately insulated suit to sustain your life systems when you dip all of you into the liquid nitrogen, then pull the trigger. But let me get clear first.
Posted by: straightarrow at March 9, 2009 06:40 PM
let me tell you what happens to boiling hot coffee at -45F when the thermos breaks and the coffee runs from your hand down your arm because you are on your back and down your arm would normally be up your arm. It freezes before it can burn you and before it even reaches your elbow. And conductive heating doesn't apprecialby thaw it. -45F is a Hell of a lot hotter than absolute zero.
Trust me, I know first hand about that.
Posted by: straightarrow at March 9, 2009 06:49 PM
Straightarrow ... the Apollo command module used about as much BTU to self heat as a cabin in a New England Winter.
If stuff got cold that fast in space, every moving part on every spacecraft would break on use.
That coffee you were talking about was being subjected to conductive cooling from cold air, and cold outer clothing layers.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 9, 2009 08:27 PM
I think the issue is that you are confusing Liquid Nitrogen with interplanetary vacuum.
LN will remove heat instantly by both conduction, and evaporative self cooling as the LN boils on contact with the warm object. Instant cold for a metal part.
Vacuum does not do that. It cannot conduct, because nothing is actually touching the metal. The metal will eventually get to 3 degrees kelvin through radiation ... but this will take some time.
And then there is also sunlight:
When Apollo 13 lost cabin heat, the three astronauts' body heat was enough to keep the temp in the spacecraft at livable ( but damned cold ) levels. Their body heat heated the air inside through conduction, and that air heated the walls of the module through conduction.
The entire outer surface of the command module, service module, and LEM tried it's best to radiate the body heat of those three astronauts into that 3 degree kelvin space.
Sunlight DID help replace some of that lost heat ... through solar radiation.
Posted by: Kristopher at March 9, 2009 08:36 PM
"Science is not a strong suit of journalists. If it were, there would be no debate about the AGW hoax."
Science is not the strong suit of many people in many fields, including science. Evidence abounds here and elsewhere.
Posted by: Deavis at March 10, 2009 11:57 AM
Like I said, let me get clear first.
Posted by: straightarrow at March 10, 2009 04:57 PM
vacuum doesn't really have a "temperature" the way it's usually defined, although the cosmic microwave background is at around three Kelvin, and items in shadow will eventually cool down to roughly that temperature through radiation.
of course, if you're within a few light-minutes of even a smallish main sequence star and not in perpetual shadow, you might want to worry about cook-offs from radiative heating. either scenario will take quite a while, so you have time to do your worrying.
Posted by: Nomen Nescio at March 12, 2009 09:04 PM