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The Answers! Part One

July 17th, 2011

You ask!

The Answers!

July 18, 2011 — Thanks for all of your great questions!! NASA’s Leland Melvin has taken 20 of HTE readers’ questions … and here are the answers! Thanks to everyone who submitted! For the next four days between now and when Atlantis touches down, we will be posting 5 of the questions with answers.

1. Is going into space fun?

Casey, age 9, California

Yes, it is a lot of fun, especially floating.  But there’s a lot of hard, very detailed work we do when we’re in space, too.  We build things, do science experiments, perform Earth observations . . . but it’s all still really fun!



photo credit: NASA

2. Mr. Melvin, how far does space go?

Izzy, age 7, New York

Scientists believe the universe is continuing to expand, so the answer would be that space is infinite.  You can learn more here by clicking on this NASA link:

3. Mr. Melvin, why don’t we send a rocket with no men in it, and as much fuel as we can, and a video camera, and see how far it goes and see what happens (to see if it hits a wall at the end or something)? And how did people know that there was even space to go into in the first place?

Arlo, age 7, New York

We’ve done something very similar to what you suggest.  In 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft.  Their primary goal was to study Jupiter and Saturn, but they kept going and explored all of the giant planets in our solar system.  Believe it or not, they’re still going and sending back data from the edges of the solar system.  They are the most distant human-made objects in space.

Since the beginning of time, humans have looked up at the heavens and wondered ‘what’s out there?’.  I think exploration is a big part of who we are as humans, so that’s part of the reason we go to space.

4. What is it like eating in space?

Sean, age 8, New York

It’s cool, but it can really be a challenge.  As you know, in microgravity everything floats around, so you can’t eat the same way in space as you do on the ground. Things are packaged differently, so that the food or beverage goes straight from the package into your mouth.  Of course, sometimes we let pieces of food float and then try to catch them – that’s pretty fun!


Fruit in space

photo credit: NASA

5. How does a space ship go so fast?

Conor, age 6, New York

It goes fast off the launch pad because it has lots of rocket fuel to lift it off the planet.  Once in low-Earth orbit – like the space shuttle and the space station are – a spacecraft remains in a constant state of free fall around our planet and travels at 17,500 miles an hour.

Thanks for sending such great questions, kids! I hope you will study science and math, listen to your parents and teachers, and live a healthy and fit lifestyle. Doing these things will allow you to reach higher, to excel and to become the next generation of explorers!

Reach for the Stars,

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8 Comments on “The Answers! Part One”

  • Caroline says:

    Well isn’t it that if something is infinite it can’t be expanding? Also if it is expanding what is in the space that it is expanding into? Does the “stuff” that was in that space become part of the univers’s matter? Does it for a star birth cloud?

    • Jason Kendall says:

      Caroline, that is a good question, and I’ll answer it with a Big Trick.

      I know this will sound like a Big Dodge Of The Question, but all ideas about how the universe expands do not require it to expand into anything. It’s just like taking a ruler and instead of measuring in inches, we now measure in feet. The universe takes space and stretches it, in all directions, no matter where you are.

      This is a VERY strange idea, so it helps to understand that it comes as a result not from some hair-brained silly idea, but from looking at the skies and taking real data. It’s been shown over the last 100 years by thousands of astronomers that if you can find the distance to a galaxy, you also find a strange thing. The farther a galaxy is away from us, the faster it is flying away from us! We can learn the speed by looking at the Doppler Effect on the light of the galaxy. Now, this isn’t some idea, it is a fact. It’s just as much a fact as how the Sun rises in the East and how you have to do homework for school.

      So, if everything is rushing away from us, you might ask, does that mean we’re the center of the universe? The answer to that is no. We don’t believe that because we see galaxies that look just like our Milky Way everywhere. If we were that special, we would somehow look different than everyone else, perhaps with streamers of stuff coming out of that center. But that is not seen by anyone. So, we are not the Center of the Universe. Kim Kardashian might think she is, and her press agents better believe that, but we know better. Call it being Cosmically Humble.

      So where does it expand into?

      You’ll hate this answer.

      The universe contains everything we call “space,” so there is no “space” into which it expands.

      Now here comes the Big Trick.

      Start counting up 1, 2, 3, 4… and up you go. There is no end to those numbers; they are infinite. Now, multiply EACH number by two and count with that 2, 4, 6, 8,…. Both groups go on forever. Which one “has more numbers?” Actually, they have exactly the same number of numbers! Even though you’ve removed half, you still have the “same size infinity”. When we think of the universe expanding we can know that a number expanded (here by multiplying by two) that it’s not expanding “into” anything. We could’ve multiplied by 100 or a million, and the result is still the same. We call those numbers “countably infinite,” because you can always somehow relate them back to 1,2,3,4….

      Now then, the universe itself defines what we call “space”, so the expansion of space is like making the ruler bigger. It’s like your measuring stick BETWEEN things grows from inches to feet to yards to miles, but your measuring stick ON things stays the same. In fact, when we look at computer simulations of how the universe expands and how it changes, if we just “follow along” as the expansion goes, thereby ignoring it, we get amazing results, like the The Bolshoi Simulation.

      The expansion of the universe is a well-documented fact backed up by hundreds of thousands of observations by thousands of scientists, so we cannot escape it. But there are no scientists that think it’s expanding into a “larger space.” Even Mr. Einstein said that to explain the expansion, you don’t need a larger space into which our space expands, you just need an expanding measuring stick.

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