NASA Warns Pressure Test This Weekend Will Sound Like Explosive Boom

NASA will be conducting a pressure test in Houston, Texas on July 9, and it is warning that it might sound like an explosion to people in the nearby vicinity.

Between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. CDT, the pressure test will occur at the Energy Systems Test Activity area of the Johnson Space Center. According to a NASA news release, the loud boom is expected to happen in the final hour of the test, somewhere between 11 a.m. and noon and will last a brief amount of time.

"The noise may be alarming for folks but, rest assured, it is a normal outcome of the test we are doing," said Matthew Green, senior software engineer and test director. "The more people who are aware that the test is taking place, the more people we can make feel comfortable and bring awareness to the important research we are doing."

The pressure test is to ensure that a potential lunar habitat module is safe, with engineers attempting to determine how much pressure it can hold before it fails and bursts.

moon base
Stock image: 3D concept illustration of a settlement on the surface of the moon. The loud boom will be as a result of a pressure test on a future lunar habitat. iStock / Getty Images Plus / Marcos Silva

By continually increasing the pressure inside the habitat, the engineers can measure the exact amount of pressure needed to cause it to burst. They can then use this data to make sure that pressure is never reached. If these lunar habitats end up on the moon in a future mission, with astronauts living inside without their spacesuits, every scenario needs to be tested to ensure that they won't encounter something unexpected.

It also allows the engineers to compare the pros and cons of different materials and components involved in the habitat design. The material that a lunar habitat is made from will need to be thermally insulating, protect astronauts from dangerous space radiation and impacts from small space rocks, all while containing one atmosphere of pressure and all the gasses humans require to breathe.

If a pressure vessel fails in space, astronauts will experience several things simultaneously: the air in their lungs will attempt to escape, rupturing the lung tissue if they try to hold their breath, exposed liquids in their mouth and eyes will begin to boil, and after around 15 seconds, their brains will run out of oxygen, so they will lose consciousness. Some 90 seconds later, they will die from asphyxiation.

A similar procedure was tested on the Orion pressure vessel in 2016, which is planned to be the capsule that astronauts will live inside in a mission to Mars.

The test will only occur if weather conditions permit. The loud boom will be a result of the habitat finally failing, on purpose, and will be able to be heard in surrounding neighborhoods and communities. The Johnson Space Center gate on Space Center Boulevard will be closed for the four-hour duration of the pressure test, as well as two pedestrian gates and two vehicle gates at the Gilruth Center entrance.