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What would really happen if you were exposed to space?

In several Sci-Fi adventures (e.g.: 2001: A space Oddessy and HHGTG) the protagonist survives a markedly brief stint in the vacuum of space. Often, a character will supply some hints at tactics for surviving just a moment or two longer than perhaps you might otherwise -- "close your eyes," or "hold your breath," -- and perhaps the hero wins the day because of his foresight.

Almost universally, though, the author suggests that holding your breath is a key to survival, which has always struck me as wrong-headed. As a diver, you're taught to never hold your breath, especially when ascending, since holding your breath during decompression causes fatal lung injuries.

What sort of scientifically-sound tactics could an author recommend to a character about to face a few seconds out in space in order to avoid (or at least delay) death, and perhaps aid recovery if quickly rescued?

Related: http://www.geoffreylandis.com/ebullism.html



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