The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments

By Claude A. Piantadosi | Go to book overview

16
Into the Wild Blue Yonder

The Earth's gaseous atmosphere is an essential part of the biosphere of the planet. It provides the O2 required by most forms of life, a stable thermal environment, and protection from the harmful effects of cosmic radiation. Only the very closest atmospheric region to the surface of the Earth, which extends from sea level to an altitude of about 16 kilometers (10 miles), can support aerobic life. This is a mere 3% of the complete atmosphere of the planet. The thinness of the air above this life-sustaining envelope, however, has not prevented humans from testing their limits against it.


The International Standard Atmosphere

By convention the atmosphere is divided into a series of layers, or concentric shells, characterized primarily by their thermal properties. This structural arrangement, known as the International Standard Atmosphere, divides the atmosphere into five regions: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the ionosphere (thermosphere), and the exosphere (Fig. 16.1). These regions are separated by theoretical boundaries known as pauses.

The atmosphere near the surface, the troposphere, which extends from sea level to an altitude of 16 kilometers, can support life. The air in the troposphere be-

-181-

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The Biology of Human Survival: Life and Death in Extreme Environments
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1: The Human Environment 1
  • 2: Survival and Adaptation 10
  • 3: Cross-Acclimation 21
  • 4: Food for Thought 29
  • 5: Water and Salt 41
  • 6: Water That Makes Men Mad 54
  • 7: Tolerance to Heat 63
  • 8: Endless Oceans of Sand 78
  • 9: Hypothermia 89
  • 10: Life and Death on the Crystal Desert 99
  • 11: Survival in Cold Water 119
  • 12: Air as Good as We Deserve 129
  • 13: Bends and Rapture of the Deep 140
  • 14: Sunken Submarines 152
  • 15: Climbing Higher 164
  • 16: Into the Wild Blue Yonder 181
  • 17: G Whiz 193
  • 18: The Gravity of Microgravity 203
  • 19: Weapons of Mass Destruction 212
  • 20: Human Prospects for Colonizing Space 227
  • Bibliography and Supplemental Reading 247
  • Index 255
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