Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Astronauts, Space Travel, and the International Space Station

We found a lot of ideas for demonstrations of how astronauts might feel in zero gravity. Malachi, who wants to be an astronaut, was especially interested in these simple demonstrations. Most of them came from the book Cosmic Science, but this site had some additional ideas and pictures.

One thing we tried was putting on rubber gloves and then trying to do a couple simple tasks underwater. We had to pick up a penny and put it in a cup, then take it out again; and then screw a nut onto a bolt. It was quite difficult! I can't imagine how much practice it would have taken for the astronauts to become competent enough, while wearing their gloves and while in zero gravity, to perform delicate tasks like fixing the Hubble Telescope!

Here we observed and recorded the difference between a vehicle's re-entry into the atmosphere with a parachute, and without one. (We made a parachute for a toy out of plastic wrap and yarn.)

We saw how constant motion can "trick" the inner ear into thinking you aren't moving when you are, or how a change in motion can make you think you're moving the opposite direction.

We tried writing with a ballpoint pen upside down (and compared this with using Sam's "space pen"---and a pencil).

Robot arm operator
Junie looks on with interest
Success! Malachi grabs the clay ball!
Perhaps the most fun of these activities was making a robot arm, like the one found on the International Space Station. It was surprisingly tricky to maneuver it correctly in order to pick up a small clay ball (and we even had the resistance of the table to press against, which you wouldn't in space, of course).

There are lots of cool videos you can watch that show how things behave in zero gravity. One of our favorites was this one, showing what happens when you wring out a washcloth in space.

The children really liked this one, too: everyday life on the space station.

Lastly, this is the most interesting movie ever---an hour-long tour of the International Space Station. We could have watched this all day. Just watching the narrator move around is fascinating, but seeing the different spaces they live and work in is even better. I would want to spend all my time up in the cupola, watching earth. So cool!

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