Science & Tech

The ISS: Experiments

Chris Hadfield

Lesson time 13:02 min

Chris outlines a few experiments currently running on the ISS and explains how astronauts learn to conduct experiments in space on behalf of scientists on Earth.

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Topics include: Testing the Composition of the Universe • Detecting Radiation • Prepare for the Pressure


The space station that's above our heads right now is like this big orbiting laboratory going 25 times the speed of sound. But it is covered in experiments. We have them on the inside. We have them bolted to the outside. There's like this book that's on the outside, like as if you took a briefcase and opened it up. And it's a whole bunch of materials to see how they do in the vacuum of space. There's even this super light gel that's out there. And what it's doing is collecting all the little super tiny grain of sand sized meteorites because we want to know, what's the universe made of? And so let's collect them in this aerogel. We've got sensors staring at the Earth on the outside. We've got telescopes staring at the universe. And on the inside, we have nanoparticle experiments. Because of course without gravity, things don't settle to the bottom. So we can study nanoparticles suspended in fluids. And if you make them reactive to an electric field or magnetic field, you can maybe change the fluid properties of a liquid by modifying, through an electric field, the orientation of the nanoparticles inside that fluid. You could then use that as a shock absorber underneath a building during an earthquake or in a car or something, potentially. And it's a place to study it without gravity. The space station is this is this great amalgam of experiments all jammed together. But there's a lot more experiments on earth than there is room in the racks on board the space station. And there's 15 different partners who have built the space station. So there's a constant battle of who can get their experiment up there. And we try and do it as logically and as efficiently as we can. What is the merit of this experiment? Why does it truly have to be in space? How highly do the really educated people in this field, the peers, how highly do they rank that experiment versus another? What sort of peer reviews does this experiment get versus other ones? And we try and map them altogether. Of course each country that's part of the space station has contributed some percentage of the cost of building it. So we apportion out rack space based on how much that country put into it to try and make it equable and fair. But it's a constant discussion. How much power is that experiment going to take? How much cooling does it need? Does it have waste gases? It's a big juggling match with almost an unlimited number of balls for the payloads in the experiment and the science teams on Earth. But up on the space station, the astronauts are just trying to make sure that all those experiments are working. We're the lab technicians. We're the lab rats. We're the repair team. We're the plumbers. We're the emergency-response team. We're just up there trying to be not just the brains but the hands and the eyes of all of those researchers all around the planet. At any given moment, there are hundreds of experiments running on the International Space Station. During...

About the Instructor

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.

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Chris Hadfield

The former commander of the International Space Station teaches you the science of space exploration and what the future holds.

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