Science of Opportunity (Saturday Morning Science) - 11.22.16

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Don Pettit, Expedition 6 NASA ISS Science Officer, used his free time, usually Saturday mornings, while living aboard the International Space Station to shed the light of science on a variety of subjects for students of all ages. These demonstrations were chronicled and dubbed "Saturday Morning Science".
Science Results for Everyone
Forget Saturday morning cartoons, here comes Saturday Morning Science. While on the space station, NASA science officer Don Pettit uses his free time to show students of all ages various science subjects. His demonstrations, captured on video and dubbed "Saturday Morning Science," sometimes demonstrate phenomena not previously seen in microgravity. For example, during a session on how salt grains clumped in water in microgravity, Pettit accidentally demonstrate the mystery of middle-stage planetary accretion. A paper on the demonstration published in Lunar and Planetary Science concludes that, although the demonstration lacked formal controls to identify the exact clumping mechanism, it is obviously electrostatic.

The following content was provided by Donald Roy Pettit, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Donald Roy Pettit, Ph.D., Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Information Pending

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
November 2002 - May 2003

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Saturday Morning Science was a unique set of impromptu inspired simple experiments that had not been previously performed in space before.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Science of Opportunity was performed during ISS Expedition 6 by Science Officer Don Pettit to inspire and educate the next generation of space explorers.

  • The demonstrations performed during Saturday Morning Science were straightforward so that students of all ages would benefit from the demonstrations.

Science of Opportunity was the brainchild of Expedition 6 NASA ISS Science Officer, Don Pettit. On ISS, crewmembers have access to world-class laboratory facilities in the unique environment of microgravity; the topics for Saturday Morning Science were therefore spawned by living and working in the microgravity environment.

Science of Opportunity, which was dubbed "Saturday Morning Science" by Expedition 6 ISS Commander, Ken Bowersox, was done at the discretion of the ISS astronauts. The experiments used simple materials that would not impact ISS operations. During ISS Expedition 6, a number of scientific principles were demonstrated through Saturday Morning Science. The value of this science is the ability to provide observation-based insights for the reduced gravity environment. Some of the many experiments that were performed are described below:

  • Noctilucent Cloud Observations in the Southern Hemisphere - Noctilucent clouds (clouds that occur in the polar regions in the upper atmosphere, about 80 km) appear as a thin but distinct cloud layer well above the visible part of the atmosphere. This ISS crew members have an excellent vantage point for observing these phenomena. Pettit’s observations included photographs, spacecraft position, date and time, and approximate viewing direction. They were compiled into a data set that laid the groundwork for the ISS participation in the International Polar Year in 2007.

  • Water Observations - An analog to planetary accretion processes was demonstrated using a plastic bag, sugar, tea grains and water. The particles (e.g., tea leaves) were suspended in water, then manipulated and photographed. The “planetary” accretion (increase in the mass of object by the collection of surrounding “interstellar gases and objects” by gravity) of the particles in microgravity was observed.

  • Studying Water Films - In microgravity, thin films were surprisingly robust and could withstand numerous mechanical durability tests without breaking. Blowing on the film created ripples that quickly dampened when the perturbations ceased. Oscillating the loop through tens of centimeters with a period of about two seconds distorted the film with patterns like seen in a soft rubber membrane when driven by a sound oscillator.

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    Space Applications
    The simple inspired demonstrations performed during Saturday Morning Science will provide insight into how fluids and other objects behave in microgravity compared to the gravity on Earth.

    Earth Applications
    The simple demonstrations using everyday material for Saturday Morning Science will play a major role in inspiring the next generation to take the journey into space.

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    Operational Requirements and Protocols
    Saturday Morning Science activities did not have any specific requirements. NASA ISS Science Officer, Don Pettit typically performed these activities during his free time on Saturday mornings.
    The scientific demonstrations performed during Saturday Science varied in subject. For some demonstrations the onboard ISS camera was used to capture images of the Earth. Whereas, other demonstrations utilized expended ISS supplies, such as ear plugs, a T-Shirt and socks.

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    Decadal Survey Recommendations

    Information Pending

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    Results/More Information

    Several articles have been published on Saturday Morning Science. Although simple, Saturday Morning Science often demonstrated phenomena that had not been seen in microgravity.

    An article published in Sky and Telescope in October 2003 titled "Shooting the Heavens from Space" discussed the amazing views and images captured by astronauts as they live and work in space.

    In April 2004, another article published in Sky and Telescope titled "Building Planets in Plastic Bags" based on Water Observations performed as a Saturday Science Demonstration. The demonstration involved observing how salt grains clumped in water while in microgravity. During this demonstration, Pettit unknowingly demonstrated middle stage planetary accretion. A summary paper of the demonstration was published in Lunar and Planetary Science in 2004 concluded that although the demonstration lacked formal controls to identify the exact clumping mechanism, the mechanism is obviously electrostatic. Future investigations of this phenomenon will use realistic materials such as rock dust. (Evans et al. 2009)

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    Results Publications

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    Ground Based Results Publications

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    ISS Patents

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    Related Publications

      DeLombard R, Kelly EM, Hrovat K, Nelson ES, Pettit DR.  Motion of Air Bubbles in Water Subjected to Microgravity Accelerations. 43rd Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, Reno, NV; 2005

      Yamamoto T, Takagi Y, Okano Y, Dost S.  Numerical investigation for the effect of the liquid film volume on thermocapillary flow direction in a thin circular liquid film. Physics of Fluids. 2013; 25(8): 082108. DOI: 10.1063/1.4818160.

      Yamamoto T, Takagi Y, Okano Y, Dost S.  Numerical investigation of oscillatory thermocapillary flows under zero gravity in a circular liquid film with concave free surfaces. Physics of Fluids. 2016 March 1; 28(3): 032106. DOI: 10.1063/1.4943246.

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    Related Websites
    Don Pettit Space Chronicles

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    image Electric blue noctilucent clouds viewed from ISS during Expedition 6 by Science Officer Don Pettit as a part of Saturday Morning Science activities.
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    image As part of the Water Observations demonstrations these clumps of 1- to 6-mm salt (Sodium Chloride or NaCl) particles in air were formed on ISS Expedition 6.
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    image NASA Image: ISS006E18432 - View of surface tension demonstration during Saturday Morning Science, using water that is being held in place by a metal loop. Food coloring has been added to the water for demonstration purposes only.
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    image NASA Image: ISS006E20853 - Close-up view of earplugs strung together by NASA ISS Science Officer, Don Pettit, to create a sprouter for basil and tomato seeds used in the Growing Plants in Zero-G investigation of Saturday Morning Science during ISS Expedition 6.
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    image Video screen shot of a 13 cm free sphere of water stabilized by a wire loop on board ISS during Expedition 6.
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    image Water bubble injected with many air bubbles aboard ISS during Expedition 6.
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