Stillwater News Press

Our World

August 8, 2012

How would a shootout work in zero gravity?

In a climactic scene in the new sci-fi actioner "Total Recall," our heroes Hauser (Colin Farrell) and Melina (Jessica Biel) find themselves caught in a zero-gravity shootout near the center of the Earth. Would guns really work in zero gravity?

Yes. Unlike most ballpoint pens, for example, which are famously ill-equipped for the weightlessness of outer space, gravity has nothing to do with the mechanical functioning of a gun. Instead, both semi-automatic and automatic guns rely on springs (not gravity) to bring the next bullet into the chamber, before a small explosion within the gun fires the bullet.

However, as in the film, a zero-g gunman should exercise some caution, as firing a bullet would also send him or her flying in the opposite direction. When you shoot a gun under normal conditions on Earth, the friction between your body and the ground keeps you in place. With every shot you experience recoil (your arms and shoulders are forced back by the force of the bullet's projection), but with an experienced shooter it's only about an inch to a foot, and you should have no problem staying on your feet. In zero gravity, on the other hand, even the smallest recoil would send you backwards. In most cases this would be very manageable, however, bouncing you back at a speed of less than one meter per second, so you wouldn't have to worry about seriously injuring yourself. Even if you fired a .44 Magnum, for example, and weighed only 100 pounds, the recoil velocity would be under 0.5 mph, which is still less than walking speed. If you wanted to really propel yourself using a gun, you'd want to use a really big one.

What about the bullet? Would it be more quick and deadly in space? Not really. The speed of the bullet would remain roughly the same in zero gravity as it is on Earth, so shooting in space is not going to make your gun any more or less lethal to your space enemy. The only way you'd see a noticeable difference is if you were firing the bullet over a long distance. On Earth, a combination of air resistance and gravity slows the bullet and gradually pulls it down towards the Earth. This is why when you shoot your weapon, you have to aim slightly higher than your target. This force is so small, however, that over short distances there would essentially be no difference in the shot's trajectory.

---

Thanks to L. Nelson of Bishop's University and L.P. Brezny of Metro Gun Systems.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Our World
Must Read
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Palestinians and Israeli Soldiers Clash Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive
Stocks
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot