Adventures in Science

Archive for the ‘Advanced’ Category


Adventures in Thought with Paradoxes

Hey, it’s April Fool’s Day! Let’s mess with our brains a little by tripping them up with some wicked paradoxes.

The great thinkers of history have come across a few puzzling ideas that looked good on paper but just didn’t jive with common sense. These contradictory or ambiguous ideas are known as paradoxes. This video quickly highlights some of the most well-known paradoxes. There are many others.

For more in-depth explanations of paradoxical fun check out Jim Al Khalili’s book, Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics. This book includes a brilliant explanation of the dreaded Monty Hall paradox.

Here is a fun introduction to Monty Hall presented by mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy:

Janine Benyus–Problem Solving the Natural Way

MadLT Lily_impeller

Impeller designed by Jay Harman of The impeller’s design was inspired by “freezing a whirlpool”. Variations on the same natural algorithm are used by many organisms such as cala lilies as seen above, and sea shells.

Homo sapiens has been around for about 200,000 years, give or take. We’re well adapted to hunting and scavenging and socializing and getting by as humans. However, a lot of other living creatures can do very clever things better than us. Take flying for example. For millenia humans saw birds take to the air and longed to join them. After centuries of trial and error we finally learned their secret and soared like eagles. What else can we learn from the natural world that can help us do what other organisms have already mastered?

Using an adaptation from a living organism for our own use is known as biomimicry. Biomimicry inspired something else that you may use every day, Velcro. Inventor, George de Mestral, saw the burrs attached to his dog’s fur after a walk. He studied the burr bristles under a microscope and noticed that the little hooks on the end were snagging his dogs fur and his clothing. From this he developed a material with tiny hook-like structures that became the reusable fasteners that we know so well.

The pictures below show how the hook parts of a piece of Velcro are similar in shape to the hooks at the end of each organic burr bristle.



Burdock Burr 2


Janine Beyrus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, is considered the pioneer of the philosophy of asking nature the best way to do things. Her ideas have influenced scores of  inventors, researchers, engineers, designers, and programmers. Here is her TED Talk from 2009 in which she convinces us how much nature has to teach us:


Janine Beyrus mentions in her TED Talk. I hope you will go check it out and use it to get inspired to make, solve, or improve something the way nature intended.


Awesome Heros Wield Pee Power

Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin, and Bello Eniola engineered this generator that turns urine into electricity.


A group of four girls ages 14-15 demonstrated their urine-powered generator at the recent Maker Faire Africa in Lagos. The girls’ project also generated a lot of excitement and interest on the web over this last week. Although it won’t be able to compete with the energy output of coal or gasoline, this technique puts forward the possibility that urine could be tapped as one of many (cough) um, clean energy sources. There is probably a stinky pee smell, but clean in this case means it doesn’t give off CO2 emissions or other pollutants.

Let’s take a look at their process—

The Maker Faire Africa blog listed their method as such:

  • Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which separates out the hydrogen.
  • The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder.
  • The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas.
  • This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.

Along the whole way there are one-way valves for security, but let’s be honest that this is something of an explosive device…

The generated electricity powers a light bulb which is mostly hidden by the middle girl’s knee in the picture above.

The girls designed their system based on this paper by scientists from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Ohio University. Here is a more reader-friendly article on the paper that you might want to check out before you decide to explore the  scientific paper.

There is also a good deal of scientific debate and skepticism over whether this is a useful or effective electricity generator. The comment thread below that blog post is a good sampling of the discussion.

Good science means hashing out the truth and not taking claims at face value.  The only way to know for sure if this process works is to replicate the girls’ setup. With appropriate mentoring and safety precautions, it would be great to see other kids working to recreate this idea. If it turns out that this works…awesome! Then young scientists can work to make improvements to the technique.

We look forward to the day we can feature the work of the first group of teens that powers a cell phone from this kind of pee-powered system. Game on.


The Dark Side of Wonder

Here’s an *awesome* clip from “Wonders of the Solar System” presented by Professor Brian Cox:

“Imagine this was a piece of Saturn’s rings. What a view!” That’s an inspiring thought isn’t it? That clip does a great job of making us feel a sense of wonder for the things scientists have discovered about the universe. For me, it approaches a mystical blissout but your mileage will vary.*

Wonder in the natural world, universe, and the excitement of scientific discovery is often what leads many people into a career in science. Daily exposure to the latest wonders is a great job benefit and can make for a rewarding career.

Unfortunately, scientific discovery doesn’t just offer us mystical blissouts. Scientific wonder has a flipside as seen in this video:

…a moment to shake the bricks out of our underwear…

Thank you, science, for showing us in minute gory detail exactly how boned we are if the Earth is hit by a meteor, asteroid, or comet. Yes, we have science to thank for the knowledge that we could be wiped out in a few hours if a giant rock from space slammed into the Earth. We have science to thank for the fact that we know that little germs arise from time to time that kill us off in great numbers. We have science to thank for the fact that we know that humans’ use of fossil fuels are changing the world in such a way that is going endanger our lives unless we change our habits. This is just a small sample of possible threats to our survival and life on Earth that science has uncovered for us.

Those are just the natural threats. We didn’t need science to tell us that we are a threat to ourselves; however, science gave us the ability to war against each other in ways that would likely kill us all. The  mass military buildup of the Cold War is the shining example of how we are one of our biggest problems.***

Sometimes people find that thinking about these megaproblems is very unsettling. They seem so much bigger than us and over our heads. In the past, we have tended to either ignore the out-of-our league problems altogether or attempt to hand them off to something bigger than ourselves in the form of supernatural beings or forces.

(c)2008 Big Idea Entertainment

Many of us experience a great sense of peace and comfort against the terrors of life in our religious beliefs. However, when it comes to the greatest problems facing humanity we cannot allow ourselves the luxury to merely fret, wish, pray, or perform rituals as a way of warding off our biggest problems. We need to work on them.

The only way to overcome the big problems is through advancing our knowledge. At this time, the best way we know of to increase our knowledge is through the practice of science.

The more people and groups of people contributing toward solving the big, overwhelming problems the better. It could take many lifetimes before we can defend ourselves against the greatest dangers. In the meantime, though, a bounty of spin-off innovations and discoveries that improve our understanding of the universe, our quality of life, and security are sure to result from pursuing such goals. There is no doubt that this increase in knowledge will uncover as yet unknown threats and problems. Over time, though, we’ll get better at figuring things out and new problems will not threaten but inspire us with the possibilities of new and wonderous frontiers.

Chibithulu says, “To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth.”

*Personally, I could watch “Wonders of the Solar System” and “Wonders of the Universe” all day.**

**Sometimes I do.

***Dr. David Eagleman and many others are studying what makes us a threat to each other and possible ways to change our behavior

Amanda Palmer visits MIT’s Media Lab

Amanda Palmer picture from her Kickstarter page for her new album.

Rockstar/artist Amanda Palmer, well known for her vocals, piano, keyboard and ukelele performances and recordings, explored some experimental media arts with the help of MIT’s Media Lab on Memorial Day 2012. The jam session was webcast on Amanda Palmer’s Party on the Internet site and the whole event is archived at UStream here. The event is split over a few different video files. (There will be ads.)

This event was a video uzi of rapid-fire awesome. I’ve included some links and references for any of you who want more information on these innovative media projects or Amanda Palmer’s work. Amanda Palmer and MIT Media Lab will also have more and better links to the information up soon.

Joi Ito, welcomed Amanda Palmer and her viewers and gave us a brief description about what kind of people and projects you will find at Media Lab.

“The Media Lab was founded by, as kind of, the misfits of MIT, the people who couldn’t fit in at other places, and it still is, kind of, the ultimate place where all of the misfits end up, including myself. The criteria for faculty and students is–if you can do what you want to do anywhere else, don’t come to the Media Lab. You should only come to the Media Lab if you can’t fit in anywhere else and it’s the only place you can do it.

The criteria for the success of any project is: Uniqueness, Impact, & Magic. If it doesn’t have all three, it doesn’t work at the Media Lab.”

With that said, Dazza the Media Lab Emcee and Amanda Palmer the Rockstar jumped right in to get their hands dirty on some magic by inviting graduate students to demonstrate their projects.

Daniel Novy from the object-based media department started things off by showing off a project called Pillow Talk. This is for people who want to record their dreams. He claims the device was inspired by Harvard medical study that found that “upon waking, if you move your position, you will forget your dream or be more likely to forget your dream.” So instead of reaching for a journal and pen and forgetting your dream, you simply squeeze the pillow and talk into it while it records. The recording of your dream is then transmitted to a mason jar full of what appear to be LED “fireflies” where it waits for you to retrieve it.

Remember the Tupac ‘hologram’ sensation at Coachella 2012? Be amazed…be very amazed. Dan Novy works on the technology responsible for that.  He says it’s an updated version the Pepper’s Ghost magic show illusion and not actually a hologram.

There is a brief description of both PillowTalk and Holographic TV projects here.

The next Media Lab magician was Mark from the Responsive Environments group. He brought an array of tiny musical toys.

Amanda Palmer said she wants to take him on tour.

The first toys were lightweight/low power sensors that detect vibration. Mark explained that if these were worn by dancers they would create a feedback loop in combination with the music. The dancers would help create the music as they moved. They could also be worn by members of the audience for fun audience participation possibilities. They make a noise that sounds like crickets chirping.

Mark then held up a tiny microphone that plugs into the headphone jack on your iPhone. He said they’d be great for recording Amanda Palmer concerts with good sound quality. He became tired of listening to bad audio on YouTube so he invented this microphone.

You will want one of these because Amanda Palmer gladly permits bootleg recordings of her live shows with good sound quality.

Amanda then tried out a prototype musical device, Mixtape Alpha, that Mark brought that looked a lot like an old-fashioned cassette tape. Mixtape Alpha made a variety of synthy tones. It looked compact, versatile, and loaded with features. Amanda Palmer compared it to the Stylophone that she has used on tour.

Rob Morris now talked to us about his project Know Your Exit , an audio project crowdsourced from all over the world as seen on his web site. If you visit the site you can watch the patterns of crowdsourced musical data display on a graphic of the Earth. When you are done exclaiming, “Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small was singing!” (like I did), watch the nifty tweets containing search strings from the song lyrics.

Eric Rosenbaum , supergenius, of the Lifelong Kindergarten group (a.k.a. makers of Scratch) was up next to delight and astound us with MaKey MaKey . With the MaKey MaKey board you can turn any everyday objects into a keyboard or mouse input device by just little alligator clips. He took ordinary bananas and limes and turned them into a banana piano and drums. Then, Amanda Palmer and her friend, Casey, improvised with musical fruit and finally themselves.

Me likey likey.

Eric Rosenbaum is also the inventor of this lovely iPad app, MelodyMorph.

Later in the web cast Amanda Palmer debuted some new music and they took questions from Twitter. So check it out at her archive on UStream.

Amanda Palmer mentioned that she is looking for ways to work with Media Lab in the future. We will all benefit if they figure out a way to collaborate with these and future promising and fun new media devices. Heaps of gratitude to Amanda Palmer for webcasting her jam session at MIT Media Lab and giving us a peek into what’s coming in the future of music and more.

Day of Doctorow

Cory Doctorow


On February 9, 2012 Northern Illinois University’s STEM Outreach program hosted an exciting STEMfest for high school students themed around the book Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.

First, here is a brief review of the book to set the theme.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is a young adult science fiction book that follows the exploits of an ingenious teen hacker named Marcus. The story opens with the shock of a horrendous terrorist attack in San Francisco. Marcus and his innocent group of friends are secretly rounded up and detained at a paramilitary gulag by the Department of Homeland Security. There, they are unjustly detained and inhumanely interrogated. Once he is finally released, Marcus, along with a growing network of outraged young adults, uses his creative understanding of technology and the internet to galvanize a resistance movement against the reactionary and increasingly authoritarian control of the Department of Homeland Security.

Doctorow set his novel in a parallel time line or near future to ours and illustrates a set of possible abuses of power and invasions of privacy made possible by real life technology. It demonstrates how we have allowed ourselves to trade a lifestyle of electronic conveniences in exchange for having our movements and behaviors tracked for questionably benign reasons like marketing data or to serve over-hyped hysteria in the name of high school security. Little Brother points out that all of that otherwise benign data could easily be tapped to discredit, implicate, or even detain you.

To counteract these potential problems, you first need to make yourself aware of them. After that, it’s a good idea to develop a technical understanding of how these systems work. Cory Doctorow provides his readers with a good bibliography to pursue more information in the back of the novel. Knowledge is power to resist abuses of power.

But this is not a dystopian book. This is dystopia averted and overcome. His thrilling and creative command of technology empowers Marcus, his friends, and family. Marcus is always the master of his computers, programs, and the internet. He’s no slave to his devices or the companies that produce them. He has learned to manipulate technology in creative ways and has the mad skills to survive and be free.

It was a really fun book to read. Now I can tell you about the STEMfest!

The Day of Doctorow event at Northern Illinois University started with a variety of science and technology workshops. I asked a group of students from the Rock Valley College Upward Bound college prep program which of the workshops they liked the best. Yanely, 15, enjoyed the fiber optics presentation. Jose, 14, thought the Faraday cage workshop was awesome. Cynthia, 15, really liked the cell phone workshop.

I went to check these workshops out. From the hallway the laser workshop was dark and flashing with glints of multicolored moving light. Inside, the students were having fun fiddling with the different laser exhibits. They flashed laser pointer beams through a large water-filled cylinder to understand fiber optics. They saw how an iPod could beam music to a speaker by laser with a SpectraSound kit.  The students also manipulated beam splitters on laser mazes to see what they could get the beams to do. The working demo of a helium neon (HeNe) laser showing the internal components of the laser intrigued me. Jeremy Benson, STEM Outreach and Engagement Associate for NIU kindly explained the HeNe laser to me. In addition to doing STEM outreach events at the university, he visits different elementary and middle schools doing science talks. He designed many of the demonstrations that the students saw that day and that he takes on the road.

The next workshop was Virtual Worlds. This was a computer lab set up with 12 stations of Apple laptops and the instructor’s computing stand with a projection onto a large media screen. The teens were in the process of changing the appearance of their avatars in OpenSimulator, an open source simulation program and virtual world. OpenSim is free. You can download the program and customize and sim to your hearts’ content. Aline Click, Director of Digital Convergence Labs was the presenter for this workshop. She said that OpenSim is good for middle school and high school students.

The Video Game Design workshop was in the adjacent room. When I walked in, there were two students standing and waving their arms around in front of a large flat panel TV as if they were playing Wii. There was also a projection of the game onto a media screen at the front of the room. The teens took turns playing the game. At first glance, they looked like they were playing a chemistry game because of the periodic table style graphics with element abbreviations. These graphics were flashing on and off at the top of the screen while little scorpion guys ran around gathering up colored balls. Eric Russell, the presenter, was calling play-by-play, “She needs to get another electron. You’re missing a neutron; get it!” When the workshop ended, I asked one of the presenters some questions about what I had just witnessed. He said the kids were playing a brand new kinesthetic physics-based video game. I told them that this surprised me, and told them I saw the periodic table graphics and assumed I was seeing a chemistry game. The presenter, Jason Underwood, acknowledged that it was a kind of fuzzy area for most people and the distinction is, in this game, the users are building the components of the atoms–which is physics–and not causing reactions between atoms–which would be chemistry. The game called Picodroid uses Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect interactive controller technology and is still in beta. Patty Sievert, STEM Outreach Coordinator, commissioned the game. Picodroid was entirely designed and developed by students.

I heard that the Faraday cage workshop was getting raves. I headed upstairs so I wouldn’t miss out. Unfortunately, I had missed it, and the presenters were packing up. They took pity on me and showed me what the students learned that morning. Presenter and senior physics major, Gregory Maj, pulled the Tesla coil back out of the box and plugged it in. He unwrapped a fluorescent tube and showed me how the Tesla coil could transfer a charge to the tube and light it up. Then he wrapped a piece of wire mesh around the entire length of the tube and brought the tube and mesh within range of the charge of the Tesla coil again. The tube did not light up this time. He explained that the students experimented with several materials as possible insulators around the fluorescent tube and determined that the wire mesh was the best, followed by the aluminum foil. Maj and Andrew Moser, electrical engineering major, also gave examples of Faraday cages that we use in our everyday lives like microwaves, cars, and coaxial cables.

NIU physics student, Gregory Maj, demonstrates a Faraday cage

During the workshops the presenters made a point of mentioning their summer camp programs. The array of science, technology and engineering camps NIU STEM Outreach offers is impressive. They have very sophisticated programs for middle and high school students available in programming (including PIC 10F development for iPad, iPhone and Android), video game design, and roller coaster engineering to name just a few.

STEMfest workshops focused on do-it-yourself tech like open source programs, video game programming, cell phone tech, and the ability to creatively modify commercial devices such as the iPod with a SpectraSound kit. These were all great ways to introduce students to the kind of technical ingenuity that Cory Doctorow’s lead character displays in Little Brother.

After the workshops, Cory Doctorow gave an hour-long presentation. After that. there was a panel discussion with a few professors from Northern Illinois University. It’s an eye-opening two hours. You can watch that here.

“Frequent travel may be required”


“WANTED: Astronaut candidates”


The heading of the want ad of your dreams right? Many of us can’t think of a more prestigious job. Adventure! Exploration! Guts! Glory!

NASA recently posted just such a want ad for astronaut candidates as seen here. Even though you may not qualify (yet) and the open period to apply ended on midnight EST Friday January 27, 2012, do not despair. NASA will need to train another group of new astronauts every so often. You are bound to see a listing like this again in the future. Until that time, this is your golden opportunity to check out what NASA is looking for in an International Space Station crew member and tailor your study and career goals toward working in space.


This announcement is open to all qualified U.S. citizens.

Okay, if you want to work for NASA in this job you have to be a U.S. citizen. However, many other countries have space programs and now there are increasing numbers of commercial space companies that will need astronauts and cosmonauts as well. Having many of the qualifications listed below for the NASA Astronaut Candidate Program will help give you the skills necessary to become an astronaut for a country other than the U.S. or as a commercial astronaut.

This guy could be your astroboss. Vrooooom, Mr. Branson, sir. Vrooooom!



NASA, the world’s leader in space and aeronautics is always seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That’s what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station (ISS) Program and future deep space exploration activities.

Active duty military personnel are eligible to apply for this position. In addition to applying through USAJobs, active duty military personnel must also submit their application through their respective military service. Military points of contacts can be found at Astronaut Candidate Program.

NASA says they are looking for talented professional people like engineers and scientists. You will need to study science, engineering, and mathematics in school and consider specializing in something in those fields that will be useful as an astronaut. Astrophysics, space medicine, exobiology/astrobiology, and engineering with a specialty in manned space flight are all good suggestions of careers that will make you a desirable astronaut candidate.

Military a plus, but not required. There has been a long tradition of astronauts coming from the military especially the Air Force. Military astronauts have already undergone training to endure and perform under extreme conditions like the ones they will experience as astronauts. Many have flown as high-performance aviators and have worked with cutting-edge technology during their time in the military.


Astronauts are involved in all aspects of assembly and on-orbit operations of the ISS. This includes extravehicular activities (EVA), robotics operations using the remote manipulator system, experiment operations, and onboard maintenance tasks. Astronauts are required to have a detailed knowledge of the ISS systems, as well as detailed knowledge of the operational characteristics, mission requirements and objectives, and supporting systems and equipment for each experiment on their assigned missions.

In brief, you will be using special equipment to perform experiments and gather scientific data. You need to know how to operate and keep that equipment in good working order. You will know how to maintain *everything* inside and outside the space station that keeps it running normally. (or die)

Long-duration missions aboard the ISS generally last from 3 to 6 months. Training for long duration missions is very arduous and takes approximately 2 to 3 years. This training requires extensive travel, including long periods away in other countries training with our international partners. Travel to and from the ISS will be aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle. Consequently, astronauts must meet the Soyuz size requirements, as indicated below. Additional information about the position can be found at Astronaut Candidate Program.

Frequent travel may be required. Astronauts are away from home a lot. It can be a drag.



The book Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach relates the many reasons that being in space is stressful physically, mentally, and socially on astronauts. It’s an eye-opening book that convinced me that I would have made a terrible astronaut. (Let’s just say that I’m easily annoyed.)


You have to be in good health and in top physical shape to be an astronaut. Our bodies did not evolve to live for months in weightlessness. All of your muscles, including your heart, will atrophy in zero gravity. It’s important to blast off in peak condition. Be prepared to have to work out all of the time for your job.


Applicants must meet the following minimum requirements before submitting an application.

1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. Quality of academic preparation is important.

Notes on Academic Requirements:
Applicants for the Astronaut Candidate Program must meet the basic education requirements for NASA engineering and scientific positions, specifically: successful completion of standard professional curriculum in an accredited college or university leading to at least a bachelor’s degree with major study in an appropriate field of engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics.

The following degree fields are not considered qualifying:
–Degrees in Technology (Engineering Technology, Aviation Technology, Medical Technology, etc.)
–Degrees in Psychology (except for Clinical Psychology, Physiological Psychology, or Experimental Psychology, which are qualifying)
–Degrees in Nursing
–Degrees in Exercise Physiology or similar fields
–Degrees in Social Sciences (Geography, Anthropology, Archaeology, etc.)
–Degrees in Aviation, Aviation Management, or similar fields”

It is great that they included a list of degree fields that they DON’T want. Don’t waste your time with these if your goal is to be a NASA astronaut.



“2. Degree followed by at least 3 years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience OR at least 1,000 hours pilot-in-command time in jet aircraft. An advanced degree is desirable and may be substituted for experience as follows: master’s degree = 1 year of experience, doctoral degree = 3 years of experience. Teaching experience, including experience at the K – 12 levels, is considered to be qualifying experience for the Astronaut Candidate position; therefore, educators are encouraged to apply.

Over and above the 4-year bachelor degree in the right kind of science, engineering, or mathematics from #1 you must have an additional 3 years of solid professional work in your scientific, engineering, or mathematics field OR have over 1,000 hours experience in piloting jets. In other words, it would be a good plan to get a degree from a good university and then join the air force and fly advanced aircraft. Do you think you can swing that?

You can also continue your education by getting a master’s degree or PhD. However, you are only given credit for 1 year’s worth of experience for a master’s degree. Most people do their masters degree in about 2 years. If after your masters degree you go on to get a doctorate you only get 3 years in experience points. NASA appears to value practical professional success and 1,000 hours of piloting jets over advanced academic degrees.

It looks like if you are a teacher with at least 3 years of teaching kids or teenagers you qualify. However, I’d make sure that you rate in some of the other areas, as well.

IDK...piloting a jet maybe?


From the above list of criteria it sounds like the impossibly perfect candidate would be a successful engineering entrepreneur with college diploma who sold her company to fly jet fighters for the military for a while, and now teaches high school mathematics.

3. Ability to pass the NASA long-duration space flight physical, which includes the following specific requirements:

Distant and near visual acuity: Must be correctable to 20/20, each eye

The refractive surgical procedures of the eye, PRK and LASIK, are allowed, providing at least 1 year has passed since the date of the procedure with no permanent adverse after effects. For those applicants under final consideration, an operative report on the surgical procedure will be requested.

Blood pressure not to exceed 140/90 measured in a sitting position

Standing height between 62 and 75 inches.

Notes on Space Flight Physical Requirements:
Since all crew members will be expected to fly aboard the Soyuz vehicle and perform Extravehicular Activities (space walks), applicants must meet the anthropometric requirements for both the Soyuz vehicle and the extravehicular activity mobility unit (space suit). Applicants brought in for interview will be evaluated to ensure they meet the anthropometric requirements.

In addition to being an accomplished scientifically-minded professional who is also a jet pilot, you need to be healthy and have good vision. You can’t be shorter than five feet and two inches or taller than six feet and three inches. The Soyuz spacecraft will take someone as short 4’11” per the table  at, so I’m assuming that the minimum of five feet and two inches requirement is necessary to wear a space suit.


Other criteria from the USAJobs listing are:

  • You will have to pass a swimming test during the first month of training.
  • You must pass periodic drug tests.
  • You must pass a background check.
  • Evaluation and training will take about 2 years before you are an astronaut.
  • If you are male, make sure you register for the draft.

If you still want to be an astronaut after reading NASA’s job listing, I strongly recommend again that you read Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach. The book cuts through the glamor and glory of space exploration to give the reader the day-to-day challenges of the astronaut experience. It’s not all moonwalks and zero gravity hijinks. If you are one of the lucky astronauts ever chosen for a space mission, a good day will be exhausting, dirty, smelly, cramped, dangerous, and sickening. But…you, YOU will be exploring space and it will all be worth it.