To all SSEP Mission 15 student microgravity researchers, just before his return to Earth on Soyuz 33S, on May 13, 2013, Expedition 35 International Space Station Commander and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield – the first Canadian to walk in space –released this video. Watch Chris (and his guitar) and see what weightlessness looks like. When watching this movie you’re invited to go to full screen on your computer and turn up the volume – maybe even project it on a large screen in a classroom and turn off the lights.
To all SSEP Mission 15 to ISS Community Program Directors: this Challenge is covered as part of the program start Professional Development videoconference for your community’s Local Team of educators. These videoconferences are being conducted by SSEP National Program Director Dr. Jeff Goldstein.
This blog post is for teachers in the 5 communities across the U.S. that just started SSEP Mission 15 to ISS on September 21, 2020. You are invited to use this Challenge with your students to get them thinking about the concept of microgravity (the technical name for the phenomenon of ‘weightlessness’). As part of this Challenge, students are asked to submit what they think is an answer in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section below. Please encourage your students to submit answers, so that all students visiting this blog post can see what other Mission 15 students across the U.S., Canada, and Brazil are thinking. Let’s use this blog post as a social media platform for sharing thoughts about microgravity.
The solution to the Challenge will be posted to this SSEP National Blog on Wednesday, October 7, 2020.
I’ve heard a lot about this weightlessness stuff, with astronauts having a great time floating around in space. I’ve even seen astronauts on YouTube videos and in movies (like Chris above), and they’re floating as if they weigh nothing at all. It just seems like maybe there is just no gravity in space? I really need to find out what’s going on up there!
Since they don’t have a spare seat on the next flight to low Earth orbit (at least not yet), I’m going to look far and wide to find an amazingly tall mountain whose peak rises to the Space Station’s altitude in orbit. My plan is to climb to the top of this mountain, look really fast in the big window on the Space Station (it’s called the cupola) as Station flies by my face, and see for myself if the astronauts are floating around.
The Space Station orbits the Earth close to 260 miles (420 km) above sea level, so that’s how high my mountain needs to be. By the way, crew and station are zipping along at 4.7 MILES PER SECOND (7.6 km/sec) relative to you sitting there at your computer. Bam. The Station just moved 4.7 miles. Really.
OK, it took some Googling, but I found that really tall mountain! See my mountain in the picture? It accidentally got captured in an old Space Shuttle photo. Mt. Everest is only 5.5 miles (8.8 km) high. MY mountain (Jeff’s Peak) is 260 miles (420 km) high. I found it south of the Land of Make-Believe, down a not too well traveled path. Still, you’d think someone would have noticed it since it’s 47 times higher than Mt. Everest. (Have you ever heard of Jeff’s peak? No? See, nobody knows about it!)
So this week, I’m going to take the time to climb my mountain, and in my hand is my trusty bathroom scale, spring-loaded and guaranteed to be accurate at any altitude. I’ll camp out at the top, and I’ll wait until the Space Station flies by, so I can look in the window and see if those lucky astronauts are weightless and floating around.
Here now the challenge to YOU—
So here I am on the top of my mountain, and the Space Station just flew by – Hey! They WERE floating around, and appeared totally weightless, just like Chris in the video above! On top of my mountain, at the exact same altitude above Earth as the astronauts, I now step on my bathroom scale to see my weight. If I weigh say 150 lbs when I’m standing on my scale in my bathroom at home, what will I weigh on top of my mountain?
Hint: You don’t actually need to calculate my weight. I’ll do that in the Solution to the Challenge. Your assignment—if you decide to accept it—is to guess what you think I’ll weigh and why. Hmmmm, lots of possibilities.
Submit your guesses below in the ‘Leave a Reply’ section, and remember to include why you think your guess is correct. Students of ALL ages are welcome to post a guess.
I’ll even give you a few days to noodle on this in class, and maybe at home with your parents. I’ll post the answer this Wednesday, October 7, 2020, right here at the SSEP National Blog. See you then, and good luck noodling!
Also – if you want to follow along with the latest news from the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP), you are invited to subscribe to the SSEP National Blog at the bottom of the right column.
[**Metric system note: in the metric system, weight is measured in Newtons (N). 150 lbs is equivalent to 667 Newtons, which is the weight of a 68 kg mass at Earth’s surface.]
The solution to this challenge will be posted here on October 7, 2020.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) is a program of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) in the U.S., and the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education internationally. It is enabled through a strategic partnership with DreamUp PBC and NanoRacks LLC, which are working with NASA under a Space Act Agreement as part of the utilization of the International Space Station as a National Laboratory. SSEP is the first pre-college STEM education program that is both a U.S. national initiative and implemented as an on-orbit commercial space venture.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and Subaru of America, Inc., are U.S. National Partners on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Magellan Aerospace is a Canadian National Partner on the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program.