What Happens If You Sneeze in Space?

What Happens If You Sneeze in Space?
STS-127 astronaut Dave Wolf (top right) detailed his method for space sneezing in a July 21, 2009 Q and A session with people on Earth. Astronauts Julie Payette (top left of Canada), Mark Polansky (bottom left) and Doug Hurley were also onhand. (Image credit: NASA TV)

This story was updated at 4:16 p.m. EDT

Sneezes can pack a wallop on Earth, but for an astronaut in a spacesuit they can also make a mess of things, a veteran spacewalker said Tuesday.

Six-time spacewalker Dave Wolf, currently flying on the International Space Station, said astronauts can't stop from sneezing inside their spacesuits, and there's no way to blow your nose.

"That's a valid question because I've done it quite a few times, most recently yesterday," Wolf said, as he answered a video question sent to NASA via YouTube.

The trick, Wolf said, is having good aim, something every spacewalker learns in training. After all, no one wants to sneeze on their spacesuit helmet.

"Aim low, off the windshield, because it can mess up your view and there's no way to clear it," said Wolf, who spent nearly seven hours working outside the station on Monday and will do it again tomorrow. "That's how you do it."

Quizzing astronauts in space

Wolf's treatise on space sneezing was part of a high-tech question-and-answer session by Endeavour shuttle astronauts currently working at the International Space Station. The shuttle launched to the station last week. The questions were submitted well in advance to shuttle commander Mark Polansky and his crew via YouTube and the microblogging Web site Twitter.

Polansky goes by the name @Astro_127 on Twitter as part of an effort to engage the public about Endeavour's 16-day flight to the International Space Station. Questions were sent in from all over the world from schoolchildren, teenagers and adults alike.

"I'll be the first to admit that I didn't know a tweet from a Twitter," Polansky said of his tweeting before flight. "I've learned that there's a whole community out there that loves this stuff."

He is the second astronaut to tweet from space, but others have promised to follow on future flights. Polansky and his crew are working through a marathon flight to deliver an experiment porch and new crew member to the space station.

The best job on Earth

During Tuesday's question and answer session, Polansky and Wolf were joined by Canadian astronaut Julie Payette and shuttle pilot Doug Hurley.

Olivia, 15, from Connecticut asked the astronauts if they liked their job and what it was really like to live in space.

"It is great to be an astronaut. It is essentially is the best job on Earth," said Payette, adding that astronauts spend most of their time training and supporting missions from Earth. "When we do get to go, it's extraordinary; it is a real privilege."

Astronauts have to put up with living with a lot of people in a confined space - there are 13 people aboard the station now, the most ever - but floating in weightlessness and the views of Earth more than make up for it, she said.

The astronauts were also asked if they would ever want to take their families along for a ride in space if it was safe to do so.

"We'd be so happy if we could take them with us," said Payette, who has two young sons. "If it was a possibility, we'd really like to have our kids playing in microgravity with us and our friends to share and watch the Earth pass by."


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.