Culture NASA PAO Is Confused About The Microgravity/Weightlessness Thing By Keith Cowing NASA Watch December 21, 2018 Filed under microgravity, Weightlessness Today's dazed and confused @NASA press release sentence award goes to @NASA_Ames for this: "Orbiting about 250 miles above the Earth in the weightlessness of microgravity" https://t.co/ZJ86lUYTYa pic.twitter.com/empirmMqLI — NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) December 21, 2018 Keith Cowing NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber. 14 responses to “NASA PAO Is Confused About The Microgravity/Weightlessness Thing” fcrary says: December 21, 2018 at 11:27 pm 0 0 Wow. You actually expect a government public information office to actually inform the public using technically correct words and phrases. That’s almost as old fashioned as expecting government officials to do their jobs in an impartial and apolitical manner, or expecting elected officials to be sane. I do expect those things, but I’d more or less decided it makes me hopelessly old fashioned. Michael Spencer says: December 24, 2018 at 3:02 pm 0 0 Hey! Dr. C.! You need to adjust your attitude, sir! 🙂 After all, it takes a LOT of folks to run a campaign, n’est ce Pas? And what do you expect the winner to do with them after the election? Why not put all of these ‘volunteers’ in positions where anybody hearing them knows nothing more than they do? It’s perfect, actually. fcrary says: December 24, 2018 at 7:59 pm 0 0 Yea, but I’d like to put them in harmless places. And I guess that just means my ideas of harmless are out of touch with those of our elected officials. To me, public information about science is important. The vice council for tourism at the US embassy in Canada is just nice and harmless place to send a supporter or contributor who happens to want to live in Ottawa. Ok. Maybe I need to get real and adjust my attitude. But a college girlfriend once predicted I’d make a smooth, seamless transition from an angry young man to a grumpy old man, and I’m working on that… Michael Spencer says: December 26, 2018 at 9:51 pm 0 0 First: thank you for recognizing my lame attempts at humor… I could not agree with you more about science, and science communication. We’ve had a few notable winners in that category who have achieved rock-star status (calling Dr. Sagan!), in the main science is held in fairly low regard. In any ways our own methodology puts us at a disadvantage. I mean a methodology that could come from the 60’s: Question Authority! The other side of that idea, though, is this: Study A is all the rage, that is until Study B comes along. The result is a stumbling, halting history; a story that can be, to borrow a phrase “two steps forward, one step back”. Those unfamiliar with the process will naturally come to distrust science: “If you don’t like what those pointy-heads say, just wait a week for the next ‘study’! And by the way it is the taxpayers funding those cushy jobs! They sit around with lab coats telling us what to do!” And then there is this: the natural predilection these days, particularly amongst those so often described as the President’s “base”, who have a deep distrust of government. Many of us see the government as an important change modality, a way, for instance, to clean up the air, or to establish meat standards. There I go again, losing the point. And get off my lawn. Bob Mahoney says: December 29, 2018 at 6:51 pm 0 0 I had much to say about this problem more than a decade ago. http://www.thespacereview.c… http://www.thespacereview.c… I think the two greatest crimes, especially in NASA PAO, are not necessarily the ignorance of the commentators (though that is definitely a factor) but instead a lack of story-telling ability (as humans we absorb stuff best when put in the context of an unfolding narrative) and (worst of all) a presumption of stupidity and lack of genuine interest in details in the audience. The maxim may have originally been Einstein’s but my father passed it along to me: “If you can’t explain it to a 10-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” I learned this to be true teaching astronauts, mission controllers, and middle school students. If one translates the technical jargon honestly & accurately (which, really, isn’t as difficult as many presume), the audience can be almost as engaged with the facts & the experiences as the original participants if said f. & e. are so translated & placed inside the context of their unfolding story. Sagan did it in Cosmos (though some of his perspectives & and even facts were dated even when he delivered them), and the NOVA folks are very good at it. Stephen Jay Gould was masterful at it in his writing. If you don’t believe me, rewatch Tom Hanks’s HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, especially the episode about Apollo 15. Michael Spencer says: December 30, 2018 at 2:34 pm 0 0 Well put, Bob. I mean the bit about storytelling; you’ve described something that’s been bothering me but I wasn’t sure exactly why. And maybe it’s this: headless that blaze way about some NASA-related scientific effort without supporting data. It’s as if simply stating that, for instance, an American and a Russian managed to dock their spacecraft just isn’t enough without telling readers why it matters and where it fits within the greater story. It’s natural, though. Certainly we want the PAO folks proud of what’s happening. But combined what I suspect is a limited understanding of the reported even (“we are just to busy to dig deeper!”) with the natural human propensity to regard Our Team as The Team, the reports become a little like acting out. Or something. DJE51 says: December 21, 2018 at 11:39 pm 0 0 OK so let’s decide what is the best description, I’ll start first: “Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth in a weightless environment” James in Southern Illinois says: December 22, 2018 at 1:18 am 0 0 Maybe they started the Christmas partying to soon. Richard Brezinski says: December 22, 2018 at 2:41 am 0 0 It sounds like in addition to the redundancy of the “weightlessness of micro-gravity”, they also think that the weightlessness is a result of the high altitude; its a very common misunderstanding that shows a lack of knowledge of basic science. There is a very small difference in the amount of gravity and a very small difference in weight as a result of the altitude. It is all about the free-fall of orbit. Steve Pemberton says: December 23, 2018 at 3:28 am 0 0 Their sentence is sufficiently vague that I don’t think it’s possible to determine what they actually think. They do mention orbiting so it’s possible that they understand that the microgravity environment that the astronauts on ISS are in is caused by being in orbit. As for referring to the weightlessness of microgravity, technically that could be an accurate statement if they are differentiating weightlessness in low Earth orbit from the weightlessness that you would experience in interstellar space, which would not be considered a microgravity situation (even though the Milky Way would be pulling on you slightly). I realize that I am giving far more benefit of the doubt than is probably warranted. Jeff Greason says: December 23, 2018 at 10:02 am 0 0 The now somewhat dated term ‘free-fall’ did a better job summarizing both cause and effects Anon7 says: December 24, 2018 at 10:28 pm 0 0 Not *quite*. The original term had meaning, because only the center-of-mass of an orbiting object is in true “free fall” — there are gravitational tidal effects away from the center of mass that are on the rough order of one millionth of a ‘g’ — hence, ‘microgravity’ for the research community. Daniel Woodard says: December 25, 2018 at 2:19 am 0 0 However the Earth’s gravity in LEO is only slghtly less than its ground level value. It’s my guess experiments are affected more by vibration and spacecraft movement than by gravitational tidal acceleration. Bob Mahoney says: December 29, 2018 at 6:38 pm 0 0 12% or so less, for the ISS-ish orbits. I guess I personally wouldn’t apply the modifier ‘slightly’ to a difference greater than 10%. Change in orbit orientation due to nodal regression is another commonly underestimated quantity. For typical shuttle/ISS orbits the ascending node could regress as much as 90 degrees or more during even one week-long shuttle mission. Actually, the gravitational variation across a spacecraft is an issue as well as a resource to be exploited sometimes. When NASA was evaluating different configurations for Space Station Freedom, the ‘Power Tower’ gave way to the later Phase I/Phase II Double Keel that placed the modules in the center of the truss. Putting them down at the bottom (which offered its own advantages for gravity-gradient stability) created enough of an ‘acceleration field’ to rule out the PT config. The Wakeshield Facility exploited gravity-gradient for its deploys from Shuttle: no filthy shuttle RCS jet firings required throughout the RMS lift, release, and WSF posigrade flyaway on its N2 thruster(s?). And please don’t forget that the gravity gradient makes space tethers work…when they don’t jam or sever, of course.