Hearing Loss and the Silence of Space

Blue Planet RisingIs hearing loss anything like walking in space—you know, complete silence?

Alexi Leonov was the first human to take a walk in the airless vacuum we know as space. It was March 18, 1965 and Commander Leonov, a Soviet cosmonaut, suited up and made his way through the airlock and into the dead silence. He was tethered to his spacecraft by a 5 meter line and his space suit expanded so much during his walk in space that he was forced to bleed air out of it—and still barely made it back inside the spacecraft.

Or you could ask Edward White. A few months after Leonov’s walk, the first American took a walk in space. On June 3, 1965 Edward White stepped out of his Gemini 4 space craft.

You might be surprised that the answer is not “complete silence.” While the airless vacuum of space would not carry any sound, the actual sounds inside a space suit include the chatter of crew mates and mission control. According to Garrett Reisman, former NASA astronaut:

“Mostly what you hear is the sound of the pumps and fans that circulate air and water through your suit. It’s not terribly annoying or anything, but it’s not the silent lonely environment with no sound other than your own breathing like often depicted in the movies.”

That is also different from how many people experience hearing loss. Those with tinnitus describe a ringing or hissing (among other sounds) that constantly interferes with the sounds they really want to hear. Others with hearing loss may hear only bits and pieces of words and sentences. That’s why hearing loss can be isolating.

Consider asking those close to you with hearing loss about their experience. What do they hear?

And just in case you needed one more sendoff for David Bowie, consider this 1967 version of his “Space Oddity.”

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