Phantom of the Opera goes to Space!

“Phantom of the Opera singer” Sarah Brightman is going to the International Space Station! She will be the eighth space flight participant paying for a ten-day tourist trip to the ISS. She will begin training for the flight in 2013 and will most likely make the trip in 2015. Who would have thought the day would come when space flight is considered safe and routine enough to allow tourists to pay for their way on a rocket ship? I read this article and, frankly, I am quite jealous. We don’t know how much Sarah Brightman paid for her trip, but apparently the previous spaceflight participant, Cirque du Solei founder Guy Lalilberte, paid $35 million for his ten-day trip! I highly doubt I will ever have that much money to spend on a tourist opportunity, even if it would be to space.

This just goes to prove that the space program is far from over. It was never even close to ending. The International Space Station has essentially been in orbit since 1998 when the first piece was launched. The ISS is a collaboration of space projects: Russia’s Mir-2, NASA’s Freedom (with the Japanese Kibo lab), and the European Columbus. Together, they make a space station spanning about 110m by 73m (approx. 330ft by 220ft) orbiting the Earth at around 7,700 m/s (17,300 mph). The main purpose of the ISS is for us to conduct scientific experiments in microgravity. Living on Earth, all of our knowledge is based on the influence of gravity, and the labs in the ISS give us the chance to see how much gravity really affects our everyday lives.

For example, here is a video of what happens to water in microgravity,

The surface tension of water acts very differently without gravity, hence it forming into a sphere. Another of the many, many experiments is this one with combustion. The left is what we’re all used to seeing, but in microgravity we get something like on the right. Fascinating, right?

These kinds of experiments can help us understand the fundamentals of how things work and can lead us into new areas of research. Many experiments have been done on the International Space Station with growing things. That way we can compare how life forms without the influence of gravity might turn out helps us figure out what some of the long term effects of weightlessness may be. But, it can also help us determine some of the growth processes that take place here on Earth. In fact, there has been great interest in growing protein crystals on the ISS. These structures can grow bigger in microgravity and will help us gain a better understanding of biological processes, which in turn may lead to finding ways to fix deficient human proteins down here on Earth.

As a matter of fact, our Society of Physic Students (SPS) and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space(SEDS) group in the Physics Department is currently planning a proposal to do such an experiment. We will submit it for the Space Florida and Nanoracks ISS competition and if selected, we will get to send a payload to the International Space Station and have our experiment run in microgravity for thirty days! Dr. Durrance (a former Astronaut) and Dr. Kirk (a rocket scientist) are leading the way (with help from the Rocket Society as well).  We hope to be selected and participate in the opportunity of a lifetime. So many experiments have been done, and so much learned by our astronauts in the space station, but there are still SO many other things that could be tested. If you could try anything in microgravity, what would it be?

photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc

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