The idea of floating away into the darkness of space is a terrifying thought that would definitely cross every astronaut’s mind while spacewalking, but what would really happen if an unfortunate astronaut did float off into space?
Well the space agencies around the world do have safety protocols to prevent float away astronaut situations from happening, when an astronaut steps outside of some space station for example International Space Station, the astronauts are attached to the spacecraft all the time with a retractable 26 meter braided steel tether which has a tensile strength of 1100 pounds, but if this strong tether was to fail, the astronauts can then engage SAFER which stands for simplified aid for EVA rescue, SAFER is a small emergency jet pack system which is worn during a spacewalk and provides free flying mobility to return to the space station.
If however the SAFER failed or the astronaut wearing it was unconscious and could not operate the jet pack, then the only hope would be that the other members of the space station could start a rescue mission, but this rescue mission would be tricky as there is currently no spacecraft that could be used to retrieve the float away astronaut. So if the tether snapped, the jet pack malfunctioned and astronaut’s space buddies failed to rescue him, then the astronaut would float off in the direction according to whatever forces were acting on him when he broke loose, he would be completely weightless, potentially spinning and no amount of kicking or doggy paddling would save him, the Earth’s gravity would trap him in an orbit around the planet and if his spacesuit was still sealed, he would have to experience this terrifying fate for up to 8 hours until the oxygen supply runs out.
However, if the astronaut’s suit had become damaged during the incident that caused him to float away then his trip into space would be massively cut short because the exposure to outer space would cause him to become unconscious within 15 seconds, his blood and other fluids inside his body would boil and then freeze because there is no air pressure in the space, the astronaut’s boiling fluids would cause his body to swell up to perhaps twice the normal size and all this would happen within a few minutes.