The Worst Part of Going to Space? Your Fingernails Come Off.


To truly test whether you have the right stuff, imagine ripping out your own fingernails, on purpose. A couple of astronauts have done this before going into orbit, because they figure it’s better than losing them inside chafing, unwieldy spacesuit gloves [...]

Fingernail trauma and other hand injuries are spacewalkers’ biggest complaint, she said. In a recent study of astronaut injuries, at least 22 reported lost fingernails, a phenomenon called fingernail delamination. It happens because of pressure on the fingertips, but researchers also think circulation cutoff could be to blame.

I am surprised that this was not in the new Mary Roach book.

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19 Responses:

  1. nzchrisb says:

    I lose at least one toe nail a year from snowboarding due to the same kind of thing. My big toe gets banged against the end of the boot, and eventually the nail falls off.

    • inoah says:

      I've read that marathon runners often have their toenails surgically removed just to avoid this.

      • lafinjack says:

        Some of them even take pictures of it.

        • elusis says:

          Why the HELL did I click on that.

          • nagarerutenshi says:

            I was just about to as well, so thank you. Your sacrifice was not in vain.

            • elusis says:

              I spent enough time on rec.arts.bodyart back in the day to know what my tolerance level is for in-progress body mod photos (answer: low) so the "I should have known better" effect was particularly doh-riffic.

        • giantlaser says:

          Strange that he had it totally off. I have had partial revulsion of both big toes, which basically just means they removed the sides to eliminate ingrowth. With one of them, no problems and it appears normal now. With the other, it's a bit thin. But hey, no pain.

        • pavel_lishin says:

          I've had to have pieces of toenail removed after either getting them mostly-ripped-off, or due to ingrown toenails.

          Thanks for making me re-live that wonderful experience in my mind :(

  2. nelc says:

    I was reading the Mary Roach book in the bookshop today, by coincidence, and that was my thought halfway through reading this, or close to it: "I wonder if this was in that book?"

    I once lost a little toenail through stubbornly wearing a pair of shoes a size too small for a few days, before taking them back. That was horrendous enough, I doubt I could rip out my own fingernails.

  3. mc_kingfish says:

    Further proof that Space is Weird.

  4. rane500 says:

    I was reading this post and trying to imagine how I would feel with my fingernails scraping and tearing around inside the gloves when I suddenly realized the bigger danger for me: pondering the weirdness that I was a sealed air bubble in a vacuum and acting on the thought: "I bet it would be interesting if I opened this thing up."

  5. rico99 says:

    Following my close encounter with a car door this summer, I got to watch the doctor at urgent care rip the nail from my index finger with a pliers in order to find out why my nail wouldn't stop bleeding. It's just as well that he did it as I needed three stitches in the nail bed. And yes he numbed me up first. (It was funny how before he pulled it off he predicted "it will grow back just fine", but then after I swear his wording switched to "it should grow back just fine". The good news is that it's coming back fine.) Having been through this, it's really hard to imagine someone having it done intentionally.

    Aren't space suits are kept at pretty low pressure to make movement easier or something? Maybe that makes it more likely for the nail to come off when subjected to trauma.

  6. lafinjack says:

    Holy shit, Mary Roach has a new book?

  7. jabber says:

    I bet those pencil-using Russkies don't have such problems.

  8. phreddiva says:

    When I heard this on NPR the other day I threw up in my mouth.

  9. elusis says:

    BTW I am guessing you may already read Coilhouse's blog but this seemed potentially relevant to your interests.

  10. pikuorguk says:

    Surely this is another problem that can be solved using enough ductape and plastic bags.

    ReCaptcha is coming out with Greek again.