Where will trash go on the moon? | VailDaily.com

Where will trash go on the moon?

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyFourth and fifth grade students wave good-bye to NASA scientists who talked to them via videophone Wednesday at Red Hill Elementary School in Gypsum.

GYPSUM ” There are a lot of creative things you can do with astronaut garbage.

Dr. Andrew Abercromby, a NASA scientist who designs and tests spacesuits for future missions to the moon and Mars, told a group of students at Red Hill Elementary that filled containers of space trash might someday be used to protect a moon base from radiation.

Abercromby didn’t drive here from Johnson Space Center in Houston to teach a class about space debris. He and three other colleagues from NASA were able to have a live video conference with the school over the computer.

This is the kind of thing Principal Anthony Barela has always wanted to do with his students, but until the technology overhaul this summer, it hasn’t been a possibility.

Now, instead of just reading about space suits, students learned about them first hand from a man who actually designs and tests them.

“It opens up the classes immensely and exposes them to things they normally couldn’t see,” Barela said.

The students also met Dr. Kira Abercromby, David Whitlock and Matt Horstman, who all study space debris and the junk that falls off of space craft. To prepare for Wednesday’s space shuttle landing, they be carefully examined before and after photos of the space shuttle to see if everything looks right for a safe landing.

The students have been studying space for weeks now and had some interesting questions for the scientists. With the four NASA folks displayed on a computer screen and on a 40-inch LCD screen in the library, the students asked questions like, would a balloon explode in space?

Well, depends on where the balloon is, the scientists said. If you were to fill a balloon in the cabin of a space shuttle, it would be just like inflating one on Earth.

Outside the shuttle however, in the vacuum of space, it would definitely explode. And without a space suit, humans wouldn’t do so well either.

“We would explode as well, and that’s not good,” Andrew Ambercromby said.

Another student asked why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.

Kira Abercromby said as someone who grew up with nine planets in our solar system, she’s been having a hard time getting used to Pluto not being considered a planet.

As for why the tiny former planet was downgraded to a dwarf planet, well, the more they’ve learned about it over the years, it didn’t exactly match up with all the other planets. If Pluto were to be considered a planet, then all sorts of other small little chunks of rock floating in space could be considered planets too.

Andrew Abercromby said he was currently working on designs for a new moon rover.

The rover that astronauts used on the original Apollo missions couldn’t go very far ” maybe just six miles. He’s working on one that could travel 100 miles or more and would function more like an RV.

He’d like astronauts to be able to take off their space suits in the rover, stay over night in it, and get out and collect rocks when they need to.

Orbital debris is any man-made object orbitting the Earth which no longer serves a useful purpose. This can be anything from parts of spacecrafts to flecks of paint.

Approximately 11,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 centimeters in diameter is greater than 100,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 centimeters probably exceeds tens of millions.

Whenever a Space Shuttle is in orbit, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network regularly examines the trajectories of orbital debris to identify possible close encounters. If another object is projected to come within a few kilometers of the Space Shuttle, the Space Shuttle will normally maneuver away from the object if the chance of a collision exceeds 1 in 10,000. This occurs infrequently, about once every year or two.

Source: http://orbitaldebris.jsc.nasa.gov/faqs.html, off of the official Web site for the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.

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