Humans and animals exposed to vacuum will lose consciousness after a few seconds and die of hypoxia within minutes, but the symptoms are not nearly as graphic as commonly depicted in media and popular culture. The reduction in pressure lowers the temperature at which blood and other body fluids boil, but the elastic pressure of blood vessels ensures that this boiling point remains above the internal body temperature of 37 °C. Although the blood will not boil, the formation of gas bubbles in bodily fluids at reduced pressures, known as ebullism, is still a concern.
The gas may bloat the body to twice its normal size and slow circulation, but tissues are elastic and porous enough to prevent rupture. Swelling and ebullism can be restrained by containment in a flight suit. Shuttle astronauts wore a fitted elastic garment called the Crew Altitude Protection Suit (CAPS) which prevents ebullism at pressures as low as 2 kPa (15 Torr). Rapid boiling will cool the skin and create frost, particularly in the mouth, but this is not a significant hazard.
Animal experiments show that rapid and complete recovery is normal for exposures shorter than 90 seconds, while longer full-body exposures are fatal and resuscitation has never been successful. A study by NASA on eight chimpanzees found all of them survived two and a half minute exposures to vacuum. There is only a limited amount of data available from human accidents, but it is consistent with animal data. Limbs may be exposed for much longer if breathing is not impaired. Robert Boyle was the first to show in 1660 that vacuum is lethal to small animals.
An experiment indicates that plants are able to survive in a low pressure environment (1.5 kPa) for about 30 minutes.