Thursday, August 19, 2010

NASA Students Want To Use 150,000 Ping Pong Balls To Float Space Capsule

So how awesome are ping pong balls? NASA awesome is how awesome!

The design of a future space capsule to replace the space shuttle has hit a small roadblock...

When NASA hits a roadblock who do you call? The students at NASA's Langley research center of course!

The students have combined their minds to solve a serious dilemma:

"How do you keep an unpressurized space capsule from sinking to the bottom of the ocean?"

The guys at Langley have been working on a new space capsule design to hold astronauts. The design is only in the simluation stage, however, since the craft won't be pressurized like a real space capsule, when NASA goes the test it out; it will sink when it lands in water. So what is NASA to do?

That's when Langley engineer John DiNonno had an epiphany! He suggested that they could just use ping pong balls! If your wondering, he got the idea from watching a show on the Discovery Channel about raising a boat with thousands of ping pong balls. My speculation is that it was probably MythBusters. So much for rocket science, huh?

After the idea was accepted, the idea had to be tested and studied.

The students get to work
The students quickly went to work and started to look at different kinds of ping balls balls and their buoyancy levels and reaction to edge of space vacuum.

Additionally, the students tested the balls with hydraulic press loading, heat applications, and electrostatic discharge tests. All of this was necessary to see how the balls would react through the Earth's atmosphere and to make sure the things didn't produce static electricity that would disrupt the spacecraft's electronics.

All tests passed and yhe students concluded that the ping pong ball idea is completely plausible!

They estimate it will take about 150,000 ping pong balls to keep the test capsule afloat. Wow!

When will the spacecraft launch?
Sadly, even though the idea has been studied and found to be very plausible; it still needs to go through a system before it gets truly accepted. With No launch date yet to be confirmed, Its a waiting game. It might be a while, but I'll keep a look out for it. Gives a whole new meaning to Spaceballs doesn't it?

Further Reading: NASA
Image: NASA/Sean Smith

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