This technical phrase is frequently heard on Star Trek when a starship is getting hit hard in battle. Theoretically, in Sci-Fi, explosive decompression is where the parts of the hull of the ship are exploding into space rapidly, and air is quickly venting from that section. In the real world explosive decompression is simply rapid decompression. This is very different than slow decompression, which would be a small leak affecting the air pressure and eventually starving the spacefarers of oxygen. Slow decompression occurred onboard Mir now and then.

Geoffrey A. Landis has written an excellent paper describing the effects of explosive decompression and vacuum exposure at

If at some point you are about to experience rapid decompression, do not try to hold your breath! Your lungs will explode. People exposed to sorts of explosive decompression may develop a painful and often fatal disease known as The Bends.

Editor's note: As outlined by Lucy-S at SFF Net, the site referenced above has gone offline. As of March 2017, you can find the referenced article at

Planes and explosive decompression

It is a common movie effect for everything on a plane to be blown out the side if a bullet is fired through the outer structure (window, hull, etc.). This is not what would happen.

A single bullet will not crash your next flight to Florida or wherever. If a whole window is blown out, then there will be a more rapid decompression but you and everything around will not necessarily (but possibly may) be ripped forcefully from the status quo. It would require atleast three windows, or the door, which is vacuum sealed and is almost a foot thick Therefore unlikely...VERY unlikely, to be blown off in order to cause an explosive decompression. Only a hole this big would allow enough of the pressurized air inside the plane out fast enough to cause the severe chaos and destruction depicted in the movies.

This is not to say explosive decompression is next to impossible. There are documented cases of planes undergoing an explosive decompression due to structure weakness and other similar causes. But even these did not result in a dramatic loss of life.

A few examples of explosive decompression

More details available at

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