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We see a few times where Tony Stark with without a power source for his chest:

First Movie:

  • When he has Ms. Potts connect the Mark II chest piece
  • When Stane removes his Mark II chest piece
  • When the Mark I chest piece runs out of power

Second Movie:

  • When he puts in another cartridge for his Mark III chest piece

The first time with Ms. Potts he goes into cardiac arrest immediately after she removes the copper coil.

The second time when Stane removes it, he is temporarily paralyzed (for 10-15 minutes), then crawls down the stairs, struggles to get the Mark I, and eventually gets it into his body. That was maybe 30-45 minutes?

The third time the Mark I appears to be completely out of power (or very near to the point). He doesn't have a backup device ready, because if he did he would have used that back at his house instead of the Mark I. By the next morning he has a new device again, but there was some amount of time for him to get retrieved from the roof, get back to his house, and built another chest piece.

Just how long can he survive without the chest piece?

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  • 5
    He could have always reverted to his old standby - the car battery while crafting replacements.
    – Dylan Yaga
    Jun 12 '12 at 15:10
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In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth #19999) the chest power device is generating an electromagnetic field that is preventing a piece of shrapnel from moving further into his body, near his heart. It is implied without the EM field he will die as the shrapnel enters his heart. But there is no individual timetable for how long he can live without his chest plate.

The chest plate appears to have a short term backup power supply since he was able to work with Pepper to replace the core. It should certainly last long enough to get a new core into the device, clear out toxic buildups or to make short term repairs to it.

During long term or high end maintenance, I suspect Stark has a larger power system he can plug into while he is refining or improving the chest plate technology. Yes, it would be inelegant and keep him tethered while he works but it is likely to be a lot safer and prevents unnecessary toxic buildup while he works.

I wonder with all of the amazing technology he has at his disposal, why he has not been able to remove the shrapnel? Perhaps it's more than one piece, perhaps it is already partially embedded in his heart tissue; there has not been enough information for anyone to make an educated decision as to why Stark hasn't been able to have it removed.

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    I always did wonder that... with all his high technology, he couldn't remove the shrapnel?
    – eidylon
    Jun 12 '12 at 16:42
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    @eidylon - the sharpnel is made of Narrativium, that's why :) Jun 12 '12 at 16:49
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    Even in real life situations, doctors are hesitant to do that procedure. The shrapnel can be nearly microscopic, too small to be all found by X-Ray, and you can't MRI someone with shrapnel in their chest. They're not going to just cut you open and dig around, either. I suppose Tony could develop a new test to find all the shrapnel, but his priorities seem to be elsewhere. Jun 12 '12 at 17:22
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    I guess that's fair, Gabe. If I could be inventing something, I would probably invent portable fusion technology, anti-gravity repulsors, kinetic-energy dampening, artificially-intelligent armor too, instead of shrapnel discovery and removal technology. Women dig men in awesome suits of armor more than guys with beating hearts. (no sarcasm directed at anyone, please don't flame, just noting Stark's priorities). Jun 12 '12 at 17:46
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    @vsz In the first movie, Dr. Yinsin, a captive of the terrorists with Tony, performs the initial surgery on him to keep him alive, after they discover who he is. He says his chest was full of shrapnel, and he could only recover the biggest pieces. The electromagnet in his chest would prevent the smaller ones from working their way in further. Additionally, modern doctors would never OK a heart transplant on a patient like Tony. The shrapnel isn't near his heart yet, so it'd be a waste to replace his already perfectly functioning heart with a new one. Jun 12 '12 at 18:59

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