NASA astronaut Don Pettit has spent a total of 370 days in space, with his most recent off-world duty ending this July after spending nearly 6 months aboard the International Space Station. In addition to being an accomplished astronaut and chemical engineer, Don has somewhat of a following for his zero-gravity science experiments.
Don’s passion for science is absolutely contagious, and through his videos it’s possible to convert even the most disinterested of people into budding physicists. If you’re interested in Don’s videos then you will probably want to subscribe to the PhysicsCentralAPS YouTube channel where his most recent experiments are still being uploaded.
Today’s Stuff to Watch will take a look at some of Don’s best and most interesting experiments, as well as some of his best quotations from the heat of the moment – so prepare to learn something!
Astro PuffsWater in zero-gravity is a beautiful and fascinating thing, and this video demonstrates why. Using his hands and a syringe, Don is able to manipulate water by touching and blowing air to create oscillations. Of course, nothing aboard the ISS goes to waste as Don points out:
“What I’m planning to do is after this whole series of experiments, I’ll suck all of this water up in the syringe and I’ll put it back in bags and then I’ll use it to make tea with, so I end up drinking my experiments.”
Yo-Yos In SpaceDon probably isn’t the first person to take a yo-yo into space, but he probably is the first to create a YouTube video explaining the physics behind a yo-yo in zero-gravity. Not only does he get to play with his yo-yo in space, but he also gets to record everything he comes up with:
“Because I’m in space, and I can, I get to name all of these yo-yo tricks as I invent them … I’m spending more time training to use the robotic arm so I can snag this little spaceship coming up here in a week or so called dragon, and I haven’t been spending as much time as I should on my yo-yo training … it just shows that I’ve got misplaced priorities.”
Space BalloonacyEver wondered what happens when you pop a water-filled balloon in zero-gravity? So has Don, and thankfully he’s gone and tested it out so you don’t have to spend billions on your own space program just to find out.
“Of course, you can’t do this too many times. I’m mean this is really neat. So here’s yet one more example of what happens. Each one is a little different.”
Lenses and VorticesIn a zero-gravity environment it is possible to create thin films of pure water only a few hundred microns thick, but on earth you need to use soap to achieve a similar effect. Using these films it is possible to watch diffusion and fluid motion in water, and also get lost in pretty patterns created with food colouring.
There is no “epic Don quote” in this one, but then the science and colours should be enough to keep you entertained.
Drinking Coffee In SpaceDrinking coffee in space involves sipping it from a bag, rather than drinking it from a cup. That can’t be great, so Don has attempted to solve the problem by creating an airplane wing-shaped cup which causes the fluid to climb the sharp angle, similar to what is used for igniting rocket engines in a zero-gravity environment.
“This may very well be what future space colonists end up using when they want to have a celebration and do a toast. They can sip their coffee and their tea from cups like this, like we do on earth without having to suck them from a bag”NASA control: “Don we really enjoyed that, this is a lot of fun”.
Angry Birds Space… in SpaceHow do you know your mobile app has made it really big? Probably when astronauts aboard the ISS are using its premise and characters to demonstrate how physics in space works, like in this video brought to you by Don, NASA and Angry Birds creator Rovio.
Part-advert and part-science experiment, Don helps explain that: “if you understand the math, if you understand the physics, it will allow you to go out and get a neat job. A job sorta like mine” – so stay in school, kids!
Don’t forget to subscribe to Don’s wisdom over at PhysicsCentralAPS where there are plenty more videos exploring physics in zero gravity. Feel free to post your thoughts and favourite videos by Don Pettit in the comments, below!