Feb 10, 2005

Brain Bites


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Amusing one-minute videos from NASA answer some of the questions about space you were afraid to ask.





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February 10, 2005: So, how do you go to the bathroom in space?

That's a question almost everyone wants to ask, says Phil West, deputy education director at NASA's Johnson Space Center. And the answer? You can find it--along with the answers to many other questions--at NASA's Brain BitesTM website.

"We get a lot of frequently asked questions at NASA," says West, "and some not-so-frequently asked, but still very interesting, questions." Brain Bites, one-minute video clips, try to have some fun with those topics.


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Above: A screen shot of the Brain Bites web site. [More]

Brain Bites, says West, can be used by teachers to introduce or illustrate a topic -- like the special problems involved in asking someone for a date on Mars! But the clips are also designed for folks who are just browsing the web.

They're meant, says West, to give people unusual and intriguing information. Some clips focus on basic scientific questions such as "why do we see only one side of the Moon?" Or "can you hear a spaceship fly by?" Others give glimpses of the way astronauts live. One video, for instance, explains why spacesuits are so hard to move in (think of bending a blown-up balloon); another takes viewers down into the swimming pool where astronauts train. Some were even shot onboard the "Vomit Comet," a plane that flies in a way that, briefly, eliminates the effects of gravity.




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One of the most popular videos, says West, explains how to tighten a bolt in space. "We wanted to communicate why you need a foot restraint when you work in low gravity." In the video, which was shot on the Vomit Comet, West attempts to turn the bolt, but--surprise!--he spins instead.

Each 60-second Brain Bite requires a team of about 6 to 10 people, and takes about one to two months to make. College students Alex Lewis and Shannon Jurkoshek do most of the acting; Terry Longbottom and Tim Allen are the lead producers.

Right now, about 15 Brain Bites are on the website, but new ones are being added all the time. "We've already taped quite a few more," says West. Coming attractions include sonic booms, satellite orbits, and lifting weights in space.

Everyone likes to laugh, especially kids, says West. And they're inquisitive, too. For them, Brain Bites are a natural.

So do you still want to know how astronauts go to the bathroom in space? The answer's at