Aeropuzzler

Queasy in artificial gravity


Q. Two brave test astronauts aboard an experimental, rotating space station report feeling nauseated and disoriented as they move about in artificial gravity approximating that of Earth’s. These feelings go away when they lie down at night. What phenomenon did the engineers not adequately consider in their station design, and how can they mitigate this in the next iteration?

Submitted by astrophysicist Erin Macdonald, a science fiction consultant and host of  “Dr. Erin Explains the Universe” on YouTube.

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From the February issue

Q. This was a two-parter: What would happen if a pilot tried to fly straight instead of following the curve of the Earth? How do airline pilots get from point A to B? Here is the winner as selected by NASA’s Mark Guynn and Gary Ullrich of the University of North Dakota.

Winning answer: If a pilot attempted to fly in a perfectly straight line, the aircraft would climb, as the Earth curved away, until the plane could no longer generate sufficient lift and thrust to climb any farther due to decreasing atmospheric pressure (not to mention the safety of the passengers and crew). At this point, they would be forced to follow the curve of the Earth. Normally, aircraft will fly at a particular safe or efficient altitude, which will cause the path to naturally curve with the planet. This curvature also affects the other two dimensions. Since the Earth is nearly spherical, what may appear to be a curved line on a flattened 2D map can be the shortest line along the 3D shape of the globe. This is called a “great circle route.” For example, the great circle route from New York to Tokyo leaves to the northwest (even though Tokyo is south of New York) and goes through Alaska.

Jeffrey J. Mach

Santa Clara, California

Mach works for Sierra Lobo Inc. as a site manager at the Thermophysics Facilities Branch of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Queasy in artificial gravity