Due to both tradition and treaty, space today is a realm of peace between nations (although firearms have been taken up). However, it wasn’t always clear that it would be. At the dawn of the Space Race, both the Americans and Russians sought to weaponize space before the other, and plans were drawn up for everything from weaponized satellites to military Moon bases. Of course, it’s also true that even though space is peaceful now, in the future it may not be. Either angle begs the consideration: Could firearms be used in space, and if not, what sort of weapons would space infantry use in null gravity and hard vacuum?
Scott Manley, a Scottish astronomer, gamer, and part-time YouTube channel host, sets his sights on this question in a recent video, embedded below:
In the video, Scott cites a report, creatively titled The Meanderings of a Weapon Oriented Mind When Applied in a Vacuum Such as on the Moon, which addresses these questions. That report is available on Scribd, here.
There are a few immediate questions that come to mind when thinking about guns in space, like:
- Do firearms work when there’s no air (in a vacuum)?
- Would a gun’s recoil cause problems in null g?
- How would you use a gun in a space suit?
And these are good questions, indeed! For 1, the answer is that gun propellant contains both fuel and oxidizer, and therefore does not need air to burn. So the gun could fire, but the vacuum might affect the mechanical operation of the weapon due to thermal loads, evaporation of lubricants, and other potential problems.
Regarding 2, this depends greatly on the firearm in question. A very large and powerful weapon with a lot of recoil, like a Barrett M82, might impart significant thrust and rotational momentum to the shooter, while a very low-recoil gun like the P90 would produce low enough recoil levels that they could be compensated for by an EVA suit’s reaction control thrusters.
As for the interface between someone in a space suit and the weapon itself? Well, just like how body armor has changed the ergonomic requirements of modern firearms, a pressure suit would, too. You can probably expect all space guns of the future to adopt the mitten-friendly saber-type trigger guard, like this one: