Young Minds: Space Stations Roller-Coasters and Artificial Gravity

2001 A Space Odyssey: Did Stanley Kubrick get it right in his iconic film?

Let’s find out!

Q. Did the space station spin at the right speed to recreate 100% artificial gravity?

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey

Now to estimate (guess) from the film: –

  1. angular velocity in rotations per minute (hint: is it rotating about as fast as the second hand on your watch = 1.0 RPM)
  2. diameter of the rotating space station (hint the approaching space ship is about 100m in length)

Now enter your results into the Calculator: –

Here’s how it works: –

Person p standing on rotating space station floor gets subjected to artificial gravity as velocity v is constantly changing direction as it spins, but not magnitude

The Editor’s first-guess estimate for the space station from the calculator: –

Enter data into the calculator: –

Radius = 500m

Angular velocity = 1.0 RPM

Reading data out from the calculator: –

tangential velocity = 52.35987755982988 (52.4 m.s(-1) approx.)

Centripetal force as acceleration (g) = 0.5591219790816185  = 5.6 m.s(-2)

Or has the Editor got it wrong?

Q. Could 0.5591 .. g actually mean 5.591 .. g? (being careful with your measures expressed as “equivalent units”)

A. No, as the calculator also has a m.s (-2) acceleration (deceleration) readout where 1.0  g approximates to 10 m.s(-2) or expressed in plain English, the acceleration of an object falling freely under gravity (being dropped to the ground) at or around sea level accelerates at 9.81 m.s(-2) (approximately 10.0 m.s(-2) therefore)

Found: other independent estimates of space ship’s length: “Orion”

Fairground Rides – roller-coasters 🙂

5.5 g is quite unpleasant compared to 1g (as we experience our full weight standing on the ground still) – and a fairground roller-coaster ride may only ‘pull’ as much as 4 or 6g in the z axis (acting forwards and or upwards through the seated body). Pull-down, pull-back and lateral forces (x, y and y axees) are far more unpleasant and potentially damaging – height and age restrictions also apply! Injuries can and do happen – fun does have an element of danger and risk!

What’s your favourite fairground ride?

Dont miss: the world’s first zero-gravity roller coaster


Q. Given all the problems with long-term exposure to weightlessness in space like loss of fitness, muscle and bone mass, will astronaut Tim Peake wish the designers at the ESA had made the ISS to be rotating?

Q. The Editor’s estimate of the rotation and diameter of the space station were slightly too slow and too small respectively. Can you change the figures to approach an optimum 1.0 g using the calculator? The value for g was too low at 0.55912 g – however this might be quite sufficient for long-term exposure on space missions to Mars as it may reduce the hull stresses, size of space ship and hence mass involved. Scientists will no doubt work this out! There is a further question: what happens to the human sensation of rotation when she is subjected to 1.0 or more RPM over sustained periods?

The organs of balance in the inner ear also need to be considered.

Q. Is there a centrifugal force?

A. No, since in a rotating body the  centripetal force is always acting tangentially outwards in the direction of rotation, so the supporting floor will have to be on the outside surface of the spining body to allow the occupants (also rotating) to experience gravity as a deceleration force pulling them in and towards the floor giving the impression of centrifugal force (unless they’re riding a roller-coaster – that is!)

Q. Referring to the figure above; how would you break down the calculation to include  ‘x’, ‘y’ ad ‘z’ axees to create a more costant model for ‘g’ as the space station rotates through a full 360 degrees?

Answers please to!

Nick 🙂

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