HOW SPACE BLANKETS WORK
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How do space blankets work?
Have you ever watched a runner at the Olympics cross
the finish line and wrap themselves in aluminum foil? Have you ever wondered why
they do this or how it helps? Actually, the sheets that the runners wrap
themselves in aren’t actually made of aluminum foil. Well, not the kind you wrap
your food up with anyway. These sheets have been developed by NASA and are used
to regulate body temperature. Wrapping one of these sheets, or space blankets as
they’re officially called, around you can instantly keep your body very warm or
very cold. These blankets are also known as emergency blankets or solar
blankets. But even though they’re called space blankets, they are used by much
more than just astronauts. In fact, even many surgeons use space blankets.
You can find space blankets easily today and they
are readily available commercially. However, they were actually designed in the
1970s by NASA to rectify a problem they were having with one of their space
stations. In 1973, it was the Skylab space station that began overheating while
it was in space. Space stations generally have heat shields to prevent this from
happening however, after the heat shield became damaged, the temperature of the
interior of the space station started climbing to high temperatures of 130
degrees Fahrenheit. Of course no one could work in the space station at the
time. But there was also worry that there was a lot of equipment and food that
would become damaged by the heat and any toxic gas that it could be emitting.
That was when NASA decided to try and utilize the
thin aluminum that’s generally reserved for toys and tinsel for Christmas trees,
to see if it could help prevent damage to the space station. NASA’s next move
was to contact National Metallizing in New Jersey to see if they could construct
a cover made of this material to completely cover the Skylab space station.
Working together, the two companies constructed a tarp that they then used to
cover Skylab. The tarp worked and the space station went back to a normal
temperature. This was because the space blanket was able to deflect the heat to
another location that was away from the space station.
But space blankets do more than just cool things
down, they can also warm things up. This is why people sometimes leave them in
the trunk of their car as their emergency blanket. No, you don’t need a big
fuzzy blanket to keep warm. All you need is a thin covering of this very special
aluminum! The blanket works to keep you warm because, just as the blanket
deflected heat away from the space station, it can also reflect the body
temperature’s heat back to the individual. In this way, it works to actually
move the heat back to the person, instead of just preventing it from getting
out, as a heavy comforter on your bed does.
But space blankets can keep you warm by doing more
than just reflecting the heat back to you. It can also change the actual air
around your body so that it becomes more humid. This reduces the amount of sweat
that is released should you become hot, as many people do when they’re bundled
up in warm clothing during the winter. By keeping the air around the body more
humid than normal, the body stays dry and therefore, the amount of sweat is
reduced. Sweating takes energy that the body does not have when it’s cold. And
it can also make a person colder once the sweat starts to evaporate. By making
the air inside the blanket more humid, the space blanket prevents sweating and
keeps you warmer.
So just how are space blankets made exactly? Manufacturers start with a very
thin piece of plastic. They then spray this plastic with vaporized aluminum.
This simple process results in a blanket that is very thin and is able to
reflect heat. Some space blankets are designed to keep heat out and some are
designed to keep heat in. There are even space blankets that are designed to do
Other than keeping a person warm, or keeping an object cold, space blankets have
many different uses. It’s because of this that space blankets are extremely
handy to stash in cars, keep them in your first aid box, and just about anywhere
else that will hold a space blanket. And that’s just about any place in general!
Space blankets only weigh about three ounces, and folded up they can be compared
to the size of a deck of playing cards. That’s amazing to consider when you
think that unfolded, space blankets are as large as 56 x 84 inches. That’s large
enough to cover an adult when they’re lying down!
Space blankets also make great emergency shelters.
Because they’re waterproof, they’re perfect for throwing up onto a few branches
in the wilderness to use as protection. Or if you’re sitting around the
campfire, you can set up the blanket so that the heat from the fire can be
reflected back to you. And if you are sitting under a blazing sun, you can throw
it above you and have the heat deflected away from you to keep you cool. You can
also use blankets as an SOS signal. The reflective material that is used to
deflect heat is also extremely shiny and this can attract attention when you
need help most. Some space blankets even come printed with a huge “SOS” symbol
printed on them to get even more attention.
Space blankets come in many different brands,
sizes, and prices. The thin reflective space blankets that are shiny on one side
usually cost around $4. The side that isn’t shiny is usually a bright color such
as orange, which can also attract attention, such as when in the woods. There
are also heavier blankets that can be reused and cost around $14. Some space
blankets even come available as bivy sacks. Bivy sacks are really just a large
sack that can hold an entire person and even fit over a sleeping bag. For very
cold conditions, keeping them wrapped around a sleeping bag can help insulate a
person throughout the night. Or, the sacks can be used as sleeping bag
themselves if the weather permits it. Bivy sack space blankets can also be used
as emergency tools. If a person is very wet, cold, and in a dangerous situation,
they can be stripped of their clothes and climb inside the sack, holding it
tight at the neck to keep cold air out. The sack will reheat them, and bring
them to a better state of health and wellbeing. These types of space blankets
can cost anywhere from $18 to $40.
Space blankets have many purposes but they’re main
purpose is to keep a person warm or cold. They’re invaluable as part of any
emergency kit, and are cheap enough that you can place a few in several places.
Once you start using space blankets, you’ll be amazed at just how many uses you
can find for them!