Can you fire a gun in space?

9th May 2010
Can you fire a gun in space? (iStock)

Asked by: John Howell, by E-mail

Bullets carry their own oxidising agent in the explosive of the cartridge (which is sealed, anyway) so there’s no need for atmospheric oxygen to ignite the propellant. Without the stabilising effect of the atmosphere, the wide temperature variations in space might be a problem though. Direct sunlight might make the gun hot enough for the ammunition to explode spontaneously, whereas a gun kept in the shade would eventually become so cold that the primer in the firing cap might not go off at all. At very low temperatures, metals also become brittle and can stick together, which might cause the moving parts to jam.