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Q & A: Physics and Space Travel

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Does Physics help with Space Rockets, NASA, and stuff like that a lot?
- Easter Smith (age 15)
National Trail High School, New Paris, Ohio, USA
A:
Easter -

The answer to your question is yes, yes, yes, and even more yes! In order to put a spaceship into space, NASA has to use lots and lots of physics. You can think of physics as "how things work." When they launch a space shuttle or a satellite or anything, they have to understand a whole bunch about how things work, because if they don't, their shuttle could go the wrong way and not be able to come back, or it may never even get into space.

First, they have to figure out what the best way to launch something is in order for it to escape the Earth's gravity and get into space. Then, if they want it to stay in orbit (like if it were a satellite), they have to use physics to figure out just how much fuel to fire off and which directions to do it in. Similarly, if they want to send a probe to another planet (say.. Jupiter), they have to use physics and astronomy (astronomy is sort of like the physics of the stars and planets) so that they would know where the planet will be and where and how to send the probe so that it will get there.

Once they've got what they want where they want it, they have to be able to get it back (if they want to). For that, they have to use physics to determine how to send it through the atmosphere so it won't burn up, and how to bring it back to the ground in such a way that it won't hit the ground so fast that it crashes. For instance, if they wanted to land a satellite in the Pacific ocean, they would have to do different things than if they wanted to land a shuttle on a runway in Texas... and that would take physics!

Basically, in order to send anything into space, you have to know lots and lots of physics! And you have to be able to use it!

-Tamara

(published on 10/22/2007)

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