What Happens If a Nuke is Exploded in Space?
One of the major concerns with detonating a nuclear weapon in the confines of space is the effects such an explosion would have on personnel orbiting the Earth. According to NASA, these effects would be far different than the impact of a nuclear blast near the surface of the planet. On Earth, the detonation causes pressures of four to ten pounds per square inch. This will destroy most buildings and other bodies in its wake. In addition, the heat level will severely burn any biological material within the radius.
In space, these factors change dramatically. One of the biggest differences is the fact that there is absolutely no blast or thermal radiation. Without air, there is no way for either the pressure or the heat to be produced.
However, since there is no atmosphere, the nuclear radiation will intensify to much higher levels than on the surface. A human body will succumb to death when the radiation levels range between 500 and 5000 roentgens. In space, a 20 kiloton detonation will result in radiation levels eight to 17 times this level. To make the situation more dangerous, no atmosphere also means that it does not dissipate as it would on Earth. The only way the radiation lessens is with distance.
If nuclear weapons are to be used in space for combat purposes, it will mean that sheer radiation attacks will be administered against different warring parties. While there will be a limited or unnecessary need for shielding from the explosive or heat effects of nuclear warfare, some sort of protection against the radiation would be necessary. Otherwise, a single blast will simply kill anything in the affected area.