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Dancing Droplets Rock Out on Space Station
05.04.12
 
NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer, enters data in a computer while working with Robonaut 2 humanoid robot in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. (NASA) NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer, enters data in a computer while working with Robonaut 2 humanoid robot in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. (NASA)
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A close look at this four-inch polished metal sphere onboard the International Space Station reveals a reflected image of NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer. Using a 25-mm lens, Pettit took a series of pictures of the sphere.  (NASA) A close look at this four-inch polished metal sphere onboard the International Space Station reveals a reflected image of NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer. Using a 25-mm lens, Pettit took a series of pictures of the sphere. (NASA)
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NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer, holds a Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) glove in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. (NASA) NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Expedition 30 flight engineer, holds a Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG) glove in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. (NASA)
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Expedition 31 crew member Don Pettit has taught more than half a million internet viewers how microgravity affects scientific principles by using everyday objects on the International Space Station. In the latest video, "Space Soundwaves," Pettit takes his demonstrations to the next level by using sound to oscillate water placed on a speaker and letting the droplets fly.

The investigation is part of "Science off the Sphere," a video series featuring experiments of Pettit's own design intended to show scientific possibilities on the frontier of space. NASA and the American Physical Society, or APS, developed a partnership to share the videos with students, educators and science enthusiasts across the globe. In the latest episode, Pettit's water droplets dance to music by Texas rock band ZZ Top.

"I use my off duty time to investigate scientific curiosities of my own design," Pettit said. "[These are] my own investigations that I do simply because I'm here and I can and these things tickle my imagination and enrich my mind."

In the short, downloadable videos, Pettit has used knitting needles and water droplets to examine static electricity, demonstrated capillary flow by creating a zero-gravity tea cup, used thin water films to experiment with fluid motion, shared infrared imagery of Earth and more.

"The physics community is absolutely loving seeing what's going on, and loving having a different way of looking at concepts that they've spent their lives studying," said Becky Thompson-Flagg, head of public outreach at APS.

The website includes a physics challenge question at the end of each video for viewers.

"One of the ways that we can see who's viewing the videos and who's really engaging is by looking at the people that are responding to the challenge questions," said Thompson-Flagg. "And what's neat is that we get a wide range. We have middle school science classes that are also submitting answers."

APS, the professional society for physicists, shares new "Science off the Sphere" videos on its outreach website, Physics Central.

"Science off the Sphere" is a successor to Pettit's science demonstrations performed during his stay on the space station during Expedition 6 in 2002 and 2003 and during the STS-126 space shuttle mission.

Pettit launched to the space station to join the Expedition 30 crew on Dec. 23, 2011, with Russian Flight Engineer Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency Flight Engineer André Kuipers. The crew will be joined by NASA's Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin as part of Expedition 31, who are scheduled to launch on May 14. Pettit, Kuipers and Kononenko will remain on the station until July.

To view Pettit's science demonstrations performed during his current mission, visit: http://www.physicscentral.com/sots

To view Pettit’s science experiments performed during Expedition 6, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/spacechronicles

 
 
by Rachel Kraft
NASA's Johnson Space Center