HBOT in Science Fiction

We enjoy jokes because they so often contain a grain of truth that makes them funny.  The same goes for science fiction.  We are so often drawn to the genre because of the correlations we can see between the subject of the story and the tangible world that surrounds us. Consider the frequent use of hyperbaric chambers in a variety of popular science fiction tales such as Star Wars, Fringe, and Star Trek.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker recovers from a Wampa attack and overexposure from his night on the snow-covered planet of Hoth in something called a Bacta Tank.  In this circumstance, Bacta is oxygen that “sought out wounds and promoted rapid tissue regeneration while preventing the emergence of scar tissue. Bacta was often thought of as a ‘miracle fluid,’ and seemed to be effective against almost every type of injury and ailment across an incredible cross-section of species throughout the galaxy.”142

Fringe is the brainchild of Sci-Fi enthusiast J.J. Abrams (LOST, Star Trek (2009)) that plays with themes in the realm of weird sciences, alternate dimensions, and cellular manipulations.  One particular story arc features the use of a hyperbaric chamber after a convict escapes from a maximum-security prison with the aid of a teleportation device.  The escapee spends weeks inside a hyperbaric chamber in order to restore his body after the traumatic experience (Sn 1 Ep 14 “Ability”).  Later in the series we see another character on the “alternate earth” use a hyperbaric chamber to recover from fractures and burns sustained in an explosive accident (Sn 3 Ep 1 “Olivia”).143

Star Trek culture has also had a significant crossover in the world of HBOT.  The Intermountain Medical Center has one of the most advanced hyperbaric centers in the world.  Naturally, they name their equipment after Star Trek ships. The center features a massive, $1.3 million, 25-ton unit multiplace chamber named “Enterprise” after the sci-fi series’ featured vessel.  The chamber can simulate altitudes from 40,000 feet all the way down to 100 feet below sea level and has been used to conduct sleep studies and pilot simulations.144

Within the Star Trek series, the chambers made several appearances.  According to fan-produced wikis, hyperbaric chambers were standard on all Constitution class ships to help the crew recover from decompression accidents.  In one episode the chamber was used to eradicate a malevolent, parasitic species called the Zetarians from a crewmember.  In another, the same chamber was used by Khan to torture James T. Kirk to persuade the rest of the crew to join Khan’s cause.145

From the most outer spaces to the most inner ones, drastic changes in atmospheric pressures require some kind of technology for humans to survive.  In the 1989 James Cameron movie The Abyss, deep-sea divers use a variety of submarines, moon pools, and advanced diving technology to survive living miles under the surface of the ocean.  In one scene a diver goes so deep that he must use a liquefied form of oxygen, because the presence of air would cause his body to collapse (remember, this is sci-fi).  At the end of this epic-length movie the laws of physics and consequences of rapid-atmosphere change are defied when the surviving team of divers travels from the floor of the ocean to the surface almost instantaneously without suffering from any diving illnesses.146

Notes: Fringe Complete Episode Guide “Olivia”;recap “Ability”;recap Accessed 2 January 2010
144Deseret News: Hyperbaric chamber a new frontier at IMC Accessed 3 January 2010
145Memory Alpha: Decompression Chamber Accessed 2 January 2010
146J. Cameron, (Writer/Director). (1989) The Abyss [film]. Los Angeles. 20th Century Fox