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Japan To Reboot Space Program With Paper Airplanes

I really don't know what to make of this story. University of Tokyo "researchers" and members of the Japanese Origami Airplane Association are trying to develop a paper "spaceplane" able to survive the flight back from the ISS to the Earth.

If that doesn't seem ridiculous enough, the prototype being tested in an "ultra-high-speed wind tunnel" at the University of Tokyo’s Okashiwa campus is a mere 3.1 inches long. What, they couldn't afford to spring for a full sheet of paper? I guess it was a little snarky of me to run down their wind tunnel, since it is able to subject test items to 5,300 mile per hour winds.

However, I find myself wondering if a paper airplane could even be subjected to 5,300 mph winds anywhere but in a wind tunnel. I'm thinking that the terminal velocity of a paper airplane is about twenty miles per hour.

In fact, I'm wondering if a paper airplane tossed out the airlock on the ISS would even fall to Earth at all. I also think that if they do it, they should drop a few thousand of them, just to make sure you could even find one of them later. I wonder if NASA has any time-motion studies of astronauts doing origami in zero-gee. Probably not.

It turns out that you can find anything on Internet video - I don't know if they are actually going to make an origami Space Shuttle, but now you can.


(Origami space shuttle video)

SF writers have been thinking about dropping stuff out the airlock (and have it fall all the way to Earth safely) for quite a while; here's Doc Smith at work in 1934. This is actually a very early reference to the idea of ablative heat shielding.

Back toward the trailing edges then, to a small escape-hatch beside which was fastened a dull black ball... He gasped as the air rushed out into near-vacuum... He rolled the ball out onto the hatch, where he opened it: two hinged hemispheres, each heavily padded with molded composition resembling sponge rubber...
(Read more about Doc Smith's ablative heat shield)

Via Origami spaceplane to launch from space station.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/16/2008)

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