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I was wondering why they don't use normal handguns in space movies instead of fancy ray guns. Would a handgun fire in a vacuum? If you fired it on the moon, say, would the bullet achieve escape velocity, go into orbit, or come to ground a long way off? I'd try myself, but I don't own a gun.

-- A. Leon Mennace, Carmel Valley

The answer to your first question has nothing at all to do with the other questions, of course. They use ray guns because science-fiction fans don't want their hero pulling an ordinary Colt .45 to blow away space aliens. Why doesn't Uhura wear Dickies and a flannel shirt? Because she's living in the future, when nothing will be as it is now, of course. And certainly not murder. According to our staff gun nut (we keep him in a locked closet, well away from the elves), a handgun should fire in a vacuum. Chemicals inside the bullet produce whatever oxygen is needed for ignition. With little resistance, the bullet would sail across town, but the moon's escape velocity is 7761 feet per second, more than twice what the best pistol can achieve here. And recoil would keep you spinning, really messing up your aim.

Guns in Space

I would have to say it's a shame A. Leon Mennace missed the short-lived Fox series produced by Joss Whedon, Firefly.There were indeed space folk in the future using hand guns. If he/she would be patient, it seems a movie of Firefly is in the planning stage.

-- Rocky, the net

And here's a great idea for the big surprise ending…

Lunar escape velocity is not the data you need. It's lunar orbit velocity, which, at or near the surface, is 5528 ft/sec. Still beyond the capacity of a rifle shooting horizontally, yes, but I believe that by standing on high ground and aiming upwards at 45 degrees, a moonwalker could achieve the amazing feat of shooting himself in the back of the head.

-- Stu Harris, the net.

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