Friday, March 21, 2008

Boomerangs Work in Space*

For a moment, when I read this story I was shell shocked. Could it be that all the aerodynamics I learnt in my life until now was fatally flawed? Could the fact that airplanes fly be a bizarre coincidence?

Why on earth (or more aptly, Why in space) would a rotating shaped solid actually come back in space when it (theoretically) was experiencing no lift, no drag (by virtue of the all-pervasive vacuum surrounding it)? My heart was beating faster. My head was in a serious existential tail-spin.

I was sure I knew (in a hand-wavey way that we engineers are used to) how boomerangs operate. Just to make sure I was correct, I looked at this web page. I wasn't wrong. Phew.

So, how on earth did the damn thing come back in space? Does there really exist a God? Is he trying to deceive us into thinking that we understand how a little of nature works by letting some of our theories be experimentally verifiable? Have I been wrong all along? Is he having fun with us letting us think that we know why airplanes fly? By planting dinosaur bones on the surface of the planet? By planting DNA very similar to yours and mine in a Chimpanzee?

I followed up by a few frenetic Google News Searches.

Apparently the (astro) nut threw a paper boomerang INSIDE THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION and was ecstatic that it came back. Duh. Of course it'll come back. That's its job in a room filled with air at more or less atmospheric pressure. (Air faithfully follows the Kutta-Jukowski theorem - creating a lift force on moving airfoils - as opposed to vacuum). A boomerang coming back has nothing to do with gravity. Actually gravity is BAD for a boomerang as it might hit the ground before coming back - therefore not completing a cycle.

This basically tells me that astronauts are only semi-educated in science - and are far from the "best of the best" that NASA proudly proclaims they are.

And .. Oh Yeah.. There's still no god.

* Where space is defined as any volume within the international space station.

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