(Tina Sjogren/PythomLabs) Those of you who have been around Explorersweb for some time know Don Pettit is our astronaut homeboy.
Sure, there have been others doing cool stuff at the International Space Station, but none quite like Don. Our paths first crossed around some tech related to meteorite hunts at Antarctica. "Hello from a fellow explorer," Don greeted us on the phone many years ago and truly, he was. When he took off for his second ride to Space we were there at the launch pad in Florida kicking him off.
A chemical engineer by trade Don took on Space with the eye of an artist and an inventor: he would paint in microgravity, shoot unique pictures of our planet thanks to a camera rig he built using random finds; and he wrote unforgettable dispatches about what it's like to leave Earth.
Castaway on the Space Station
Don has been in Space three times already, for a total time on the Space Station of 370 days over three missions (two long and one 16 day Shuttle), which makes him among the most seasoned US astronauts, and that's including Apollo.
We're not even counting the time a Shuttle accident grounded the entire fleet leaving Don a castaway on the Space Station. He eventually got to descend with the Russians but the experience wasn't over yet; the capsule came in screaming a little too fast, got lost on the tundra, and the crew was forced to camp beside their scorched bullet until eventually found.
Stories like that create bonds between explorers and the other week we were Houston-bound for a reunion with Don.
Like most creative geniuses Don is pretty hyper to be around, but this time I think I wore him out. In my new quest to go to Mars I arrived NASA armed with one hundred questions for our fellow explorer.
It's one thing to walk around the Johnson Space Center as a tourist, and something completely different when your own butt is going up.
As we crawled in and out of various training modules, inspected robots and life-supports, I shot away at Don:
How big are the windows at ISS? Can we sunbathe by them? Can we use same strength corrective glasses as on earth? How annoying is the station noise at night? Will we need earplugs? Perhaps canceling earphones are better - should be no need for pillow? How is it going with the plants? What's the deal with microgravity and filters? Is the life-support recycler working now?
You know, stuff like that. Reminded me of when before our polar expeditions we visited Rune, Sjur and Borge in Norway picking their brains about the North Pole.
The Wistle Line
As I worked my way down the list (could you sit out the g's in a bathtub like Tsiolkovsky wrote, what is it like to fly through plasma, what did he think about The Martian, and any ideas how to stop when traveling near speed of light?) suddenly a question came up I had picked up from Cameron’s speech at the Perimeter Institute: Can you whistle at ISS? (They couldn’t at MIR, Cameron said in his talk).
See, whistling comes down to air pressure (declining with altitude), and that's where YOU come in.
"I wonder if one can whistle on the summit of Everest," someone followed up around Don's kitchen table later that night, over a pint of the astronaut's home-brewed beer.
Perhaps you could help find out.
Astronauts CAN whistle on the Space station, it’s pressured at 1000 millibar (same as Earth sea level), but they can NOT whistle inside the space suit, where the pressure is only 200 mb. Everest summit (on an average day) is 330 mb.
So here goes the Pythom Labs challenge (Don is one of the thousand plus explorers there): Try and whistle from around 8000 meters on Everest and let us know how it goes. Requirements:
1. A barometer
2. A recording device (or just take notes with a paper and pen)
3. An actual ability to whistle
The requirements are of course ideal (scientific). We know things are rough around the death zone though so as long as you're high up, on any 8000er, please tell us the altitude, if you tried to whistle, and if it worked.
There's no prize except maybe 5 minutes of fame and that we all will learn something new.
Who knows what it will lead to. As Don once wrote from above: "When things do not behave the way we think they should, and our preconceived notions are altered by observations, we get to see the unexpected and act upon it in unplanned ways."
One fun consequence of your discovery, Don offered: When the whistle line is known, it could become a simple way to tell how near you are to the death zone altitudes!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment to this story in PythomLabs to register for instructions.
Space & Antarctica special: Meteorite hunters back on the ice - Don Pettit back to space