Hidden Science archive

Hidden Science was a mobile phone action – found within the Orange ‘Do Some Good’ app between April 2011-July 2012. Users were asked to submit their burning science questions via the app to have them answered directly by scientists, with all answers posted onto the Future Morph website.

Submitted questions were related to one of the 16 different themes which included Food, Sport, Medical Science, Earth Science, Computers & IT, Fashion & Textiles, and more!

A selection of the questions submitted to the Space theme are shown below. Check them out. You never know, this may well be the launchpad to your career in the space industry!

1. Why do we need to travel to space?

Because gravity is weak in space there are lots of scientific experiments that you can do in space which can’t be done on Earth. These are things like understanding how plants and animals grow in low gravity and how materials behave.

Although we can explore the planets using robotic (unmanned) spacecraft, sending people to space can allow us to more easily explore the planets and the solar system. For example many scientists think that we may find evidence of life on Mars by drilling down into the martian soil. Although this can be done by robots it might be a lot easier for astronauts to do this.

A third reason is that if anything were to happen to Earth, like a big asteroid or comet colliding with Earth, then we are putting the whole human race at risk of extinction. By travelling out into space and learning to live permanently on different bodies (planets, moons, asteroids) in the solar system we can reduce the risk of something catastrophic happening to our species.

But sending people into space is very expensive and also risky. Some people think that the reasons for sending humans into space don’t outweigh the risks and money. Others think it is worth the risk/cost. What do you think?

2. Have animals been into space?

Yes! Before scientists and engineers knew whether the spacecraft they had designed could be used to send a human to space and get them back safely, animals flew in them instead of human astronauts. Famously, Laika the dog was the first animal to be carried into orbit around the Earth onboard the Soviet spacecraft, Sputnik 2. Throughout the space age, animals have routinely travelled in space so that their biological processes and the effects that microgravity and the space environment might have on them can be studied. As well as dogs, animals that have flown in space include fruit flies, monkeys, mice, guinea pigs, frogs, rats, fish, spiders and many other species.

3. What protective clothing do you need to wear in space?

By wear in space I assume you mean outside the protection of the spacecraft. The clothing you would need is defined by what it has to do.

1. Keep you warm by thermal under wear and heaters;

2. Keep you cool (at the same time) by water cooling pipes;

3. Keep all the bits inside you in their place;

4. Provide you with clean air to breathe;

5. Protect you from radiation;

6. Protect you from the vacuum of Space;

7. Protect you from micro meteorites and space debris;

8. Provide your communications;

9. Allow you to move and interact with your environmen. (i.e. pick up tools);

10. Short term waste management;

11. Protect your eyes from glare.

With criteria like that it sounds like you should put on a mini spaceship which is what in effect a Space suit such as the Russian ORLAN suit is.

Further Reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orlan_space_suit

4. How fast can we go in space?

You CAN go pretty much as fast as you want, up to just a smidgen less than the speed of light (671 million miles-per-hour). There is no friction in space, so you speed up for as long as your rocket is burning. With present technology, the speed is limited by the amount of fuel you carry, but one way to go faster is to effectively leave the fuel at home. A solar sail is just a giant mirror that is pushed forward by sunlight (or a giant laser that would stay near the Earth, while its light pushes you onwards), and could get very close to the speed of light.

5. If there is no air in space, what are the burners on rockets pushing against to propel and turn them?

A very good question! Does a rocket really push against air? It doesn’t! A rocket carries not just its own fuel but also its own propellant – the stuff that propels it, pushes it forwards. In order to accelerate in space it has to fire propellant out backwards. That’s one thing that makes rockets so big and heavy.

If you are in the atmosphere you still don’t push against the air – but you can grab lots of propellant from the air around you. That’s what a jet engine does – sucks in air and throws it backwards faster. So does a propeller on a plane or boat. Or a jetski. A rocket has nothing to suck in so has to carry its own stuff to throw out the back.

The effect – called the ‘conservation of momentum’ is simply the same as a recoil of a gun. Gun fires bullet, gun recoils. Rocket fires propellant, rocket recoils. The only difference is that we WANT the rocket to recoil but we don’t (usually) want the gun to. But you can’t change the laws of physics so you can’t have one without the other.

6. What restrictions do astronauts have on their daily lives whilst in space?

Astronauts have very little privacy whilst in space as operators in multiple countries will be monitoring them 24/7; they must take 3 hours of exercise every day; and they will be subjected to constant noise 24/7 (like being on a building site).

7. How much does it cost to fly 1 person to space and back?

It depends on your definition of space.

Richard Branson says he can get you there for a few minutes for around £200,000, whilst the space tourists to the International Space Station paid around £20 million to the Russians a few years ago.

8. Can people live in space?

Yes under certain criteria:

1. That they are protected from Radiation . This could be done by water storage tanks around their living area (habitat).

2. That they have food.

3. They have breathable air which can be cleaned. For living your whole life in space a closed biosphere environment would be preferable. If you think about it you already live in Space on a “Natural Space Station” called EARTH.

4. That they exercise and preferably live in an environment with a downward force (inside a turning cylinder could be one option.)

5. That the waste is recycled.

9. Has anything been discovered in space that has helped solve any problems we have on Earth?

By discovered I presume you mean not developed for Space and then reapplied to Earth based application.

– Space Weather (Magnetic Storms, Solar Flares etc.) which affects communications and also the routes airliners take over the North Pole

– Disaster Management is conducted in part with information from space. Satellite images of flooding , landslides etc. allow responders to best target their relief efforts.

– CAT and MRI scans: These devices are used by hospitals to see inside the human body. Their development would not have been possible without the technology provided by NASA after it found a way to take better pictures of the Earth’s moon.[1]

– Medicines : One example is the growth of protein crystals from biological cells, which are important in the development of treatments for cancer, AIDS and diabetes. The microgravity environment of a spacecraft allows production of crystals that are better because they form more slowly. [2]

[1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_medicine#Who_benefits_from_space_medicine_research.3F ]

[2. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1370/is_n7_v27/ai_14398369/ ]

10. Why do astronauts eat toothpaste?

It is not that they really want to eat the toothpaste but as every drop of water has to be flown from Earth it is too expensive to waste the water to rinse their mouths with.