I was watching one of the latest Mythbusters episodes recently when I noticed a strange phenomenon that looked oddly familiar. The experiment in question was testing the myth that a gun won’t fire in space (I.E. a perfect vacuum) something which Hollywood has a troubled past with. Whilst the answer was somewhat obvious before they began (hint: the answer, and the reasons behind it, are the same if you fired it underwater) the result was very impressive. Unfortunately I can’t find a direct link to the video however their high speed footage was nearly identical to what the Barking Dog experiment looks like, as shown in this video:
Seeing everything in slow motion is extremely interesting because it clearly shows how the sound is produced along with the characteristic light show. The flame front bouncing off the fuel saturated area pushes out the air above it, creating the sound, and as it approaches the bottom the time between those pulses rapidly decreases changing the tone of the resultant sound. In the Mythbusters episode you could see a lot of similarities although because it wasn’t an open ended system (due to the use of a vacuum) the sound produced was more of a descending low tone as the gas created by the bullet diffused and the shock wave ricocheted around.
The Outer Space Treaty dictates that no country will attempt to weaponize space, whether that be through the use of stationing weapons of mass destruction through to using it as an environment to test weapons. To me it’s probably one of the most forward thinking documents to have ever come about with regards to space as it wouldn’t take many in space incidents to make space travel, and by extension any purely scientific endeavours in space, completely infeasible. It also means that space is one of the few places where many nations agree and co-operate freely (although the USA vs China is the one notable exception) as there’s no arms race to be had. Of course space can still be used for military purposes but at least they’re not blowing each other up, further worsening our Kessler Syndrome.
However the Outer Space Treaty doesn’t extend to weapons on a smaller scale, namely firearms or other weapons which could cause grievous bodily harm. I had heard a rumour that Russian space craft had long carried a small firearm along with them as their craft, which typically land on the ground rather than in the sea, had once ended up in a mountain range whereupon the crew was beset by wolves. Personally I didn’t think there was a whole lot of merit to that rumour as the capsules are kind of hard to miss and are easily retrieved by helicopter but apparently the Americans had made similar provisions, except they did not include a firearm. As it turns out the gun in question is quite real and flew in space up until as recently as 2006.
It’s called the TP-82 (pictured above).
On the surface it looks like an overgrown pistol with a long stock attached to the back of it. It’s actually a triple barrelled gun with each of them taking a different type of ammunition. Included in the kit is standard rifle rounds, presumably for taking out those wolves the Russians were so worried about, bird shot (I.E. standard shotgun shells) and flares. The stock was detachable and was actually a machete that had a canvas cover, enabling the returning astronauts and cosmonauts to hack their way through the forest if they happened to land in one. According to many reports it’s something of a decent firearm to use as anyone who’s sent up in a Soyuz capsule is trained in their use, even spaceflight participants.
It seems however that the ammunition for these particular guns has been out of production for quite some time and the remaining reserves have long since expired. Multiple sources I’ve read said that since then the gun has been replaced by a standard Russian army side arm although it seems official sources are rather tight lipped as to whether or not that’s actually the case. Realistically there’s little reason for including them any more anyway so it’s just as likely that they just don’t bother.
The TP-82 is an interesting part of space history both because of the reasons behind its creation and the fact that space is the last place that you’d want to bring a firearm along to. It seems like none of them ever saw any use outside of training missions and many of them ended up as gifts to the commanders of the Soyuz capsules once the mission was over. That’s probably for the best though as I can’t imagine the furore that would be kicked up if one was ever brought out in orbit, let alone if it was used on the ground.