Science Questions

Why can small masses do damage in space?

Sun, 9th Dec 2007

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Connor asked:

I saw an astronaut on the shuttle lifting a piece of very heavy equipment with one hand, but they said he had to put it down very slowly, as it could still do a lot of damage. I donít understand how that could be!


There are two concepts involved here, which are very often confused.  One of them is weight, which is how heavy things feel, and the other is mass.  Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, mission specialist, participates in a extra-vehicular activity (EVA), a few meters away from the cabin of the shuttle Challenger.  With an umbrella.Mass can be considered as being how hard it is to accelerate or stop things.  It just happens that the bigger the mass, the heavier the weight, i.e. the amount they are attracted to the Earth; this is because weight is a product of the mass and the strength of gravity.

In orbit, you take away the weight but the mass is still there.  This means that if you try to start it moving, or stop it moving, itís very difficult.  So if you were to throw a hammer at someone on the shuttle, although itís weightless it will still have mass and inertia, and so it will still hurt when it hits!


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I find the title and the content confusing. You said in the title "small mass" but in the content, it's "heavy equipment".

--edited-by-gretenov: My baddd, I didn't notice that you are both the thread starter and the second poster ---------

As for small objects, maybe you are referring to those small meteors and space debris that are floating around. In space, the concept of "slow" is relative just like the motion, since slow is but a generic description of motion. Slow here moving in similar or close to the velocity as you do. However, objects in space have been in topsy turvy since the beginning of the solar system, so there's no telling how fast and in what directions they move relative to Earth and to you. gretenov, Fri, 4th Oct 2013

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