Toys in Space: Designing for Astronauts

Johnny Space'!In summary, the high school is doing a distance-learning project with students from Russia along with the NASA center in Alabama. Their project is to modify an existing or create a new "toy" for astronauts to use in one of the following three places: the moon, mars, or the ISS. Some of the ideas that they gave students were lame, such as a "modified boomerang" that would not work in space, but others were more interesting, such as a remote-controlled aircraft. One idea that they are still working on is a Sphere Maze game that would be entertaining in microgravity.f
  • #1
My high school is doing a distance-learning project with students from Russia along with the NASA center in Alabama. Our project is more of a mind exercise to see what we come up with, rather than something that will actually be used (although it could prove to be a lot of fun for astronauts!). Basically, our design team is a group of 15 kids from AP physics and chemistry classes; our goal is to modify an existing or create a new "toy" for astronauts to use in one of the following three places: the moon, mars, or the ISS. The "toy" can be aimed at any age group, there's not very tight restrictions--only that it be practical (to some extent).

Obviously we want to take advantage of the microgravity. Building a toy to play with in the space station with no gravity opens so many possibilities, as does the 1/6 gravity on the moon and 2/5 gravity on mars. We would like to be able to build a prototype, but it is not required.

What do you guys think would be fun to play with in space? Something that couldn't operate with Earth's gravitational force, but would be entertaining in a microgravity environment?
  • #2
Bunjee jumping on the moon :). (not a toy, but would be quite an interesting feeling)

Interesting project, I'll think about it throughout the day. What are some of your ideas? - To get us started in the right direction.
  • #3
Being an AP physics student myself, this sounds interesting!

I'll get right on it! =P
  • #4
Some of the ideas they gave us were pretty lame: cup+ball, but instead of a string, use an elastic band + magnetic ball/cup; a "modified boomerang" that would work in space, but doesn't come back to you (*cough*FRISBEE*cough*); other things that seemed dumb to me, so I stopped paying attention and started thinking of something original.

Right now, the path that seems the most fun is a remote-controlled aircraft. It will be a cylindrical craft with a some type of propulsion (most likely a 120mm case fan or compressed air, still undecided), and RC controlled fins for direction. We are trying to determine if a constantly-spinning gyroscope inside should be used to help counteract spinning of the fan (if a fan is used). It can be used for different styles of gameplay: with a Velcro attachment on its end it can be used for a game similar to darts, or it be flown through floating hoops.

A simpler idea that I had would be a 3-D maze with a metal ball. The object of the game would be to put the ball in one end of a cube, and maneuver the cube around the ball (or banking the ball off the walls to achieve desired direction) to make the ball come to the opposite corner of the cube. Obviously this would have to be made of a clear plastic or acrylic.

This is still just a very vague idea and we're not really sure where exactly we're going, but we want to do something that shows some creativity and work.

Edit: forgot to mention, both of the toys that I mentioned are, of course, rough drafts. Both are designed to work only on the space station, but could possibly be modified to work elsewhere.
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  • #5
Hmm, as an expansion or branch of the ball idea, how about "Flickers"?

The goal is to flick a small, non-sticky yet non-painful to flick spherical object at a target... horizontally.

Not only would it be entertaining to do in 0g, but it could work with 1/6g and 2/5g as well, for equally interesting effects!

Rather simple, and just a branch of your 'darts' idea from the plane, but still.

I'll come up with something better.
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  • #6
Cube Maze & Marble Space Toy

Your post brought back fond memories of youth, circa 1960... I had a toy exactly like the one you're describing. Think it was called the Maze Cube. Clear plastic cube, about 6-inches on a side, with an interior clear 3-D maze in which was trapped a marble.
Object: rotate the cube to guide a large marble through the little tunnels of a true 3-D maze created by the clear internal lattice grid, avoiding dead ends, until the marble reaches the opposite end.
A quick google shows a similar "modern" product (though it seems a lot smaller than my recollection of my toy) called the Money Maze -
The site even has a video to show how it works.
Maybe you could insert a packet of Tang in lieu of money?
A different version looks to be a 6-sided flat maze inside the cube and is probably even more difficult to solve... especially in space!-
  • #7
I'd be interested to see how a 'Johnny Astro' would work in different gravity and atmospheres. (There are probably about 4 people here who've ever heard of that.)
  • #8
re- Johnny Astro

The memory blurs as we teleport back that far, but you piqued my interest. Had to google 'Johnny Astro', but not even this site triggered a recollection. -
I know why! '67-'69 was a surreal period... consumed by the original Star Trek and 2001 Space Odyssey, starting college, living on my own, SEX and booze ... no wonder I don't remember Johnny! :-) Now, had I been 6, that toy'd would have been on my xmas list fer sure.
Remember 'Robert the Robot'? (circa 1954)- [Broken]
I got one when it was the must-have toy. It'd be worth a pretty penny today, had I not performed multiple test crash landings off a patio wall that terminated Robbie's potential career as a collectible. :cry:
"Danger Will Robinson Danger... please urrrrkkk... do not make me jump from this height again... errrrrrrrrr!"
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  • #9
Great, I forgot my point... I wonder what floating weigthless while vigorously handcranking Robbie's control would do?
  • #10
Robbie obviously wouldn't have any traction so he wouldn't move forward or backward, the astronaut doing the handcranking would create a quasi-gyroscopic but would he begin to rotate, or would Robbie spin as the connecting "roto-rooter" wire turned the gears inside him or would it all cancel out?
  • #11
You apparently have a few years on me (which I didn't think was possible). I was 2 years pre-birth in '54.
I sure loved my Johnny Astro. Eventually I got so adept with it that I could snag the little hook in the cat's nose and drag him over to the landing pad. (Good thing he never realized that it was a balloon, or the game wouldn't have lasted long.)
  • #12
Yeah, I'm old... but not THAT old. <cough hack>

I guess all kids find ways to bedevil pets, but that one ranks way up there on the creative scale. Leads me to proffer a new idea for a space game based on a feline's bizarre temporary insanity - that's where their pupils suddenly dilate, the tail vibrates and then they tear around the room bouncing off walls. (my first cat exhibited that insanity, with or without a snootful of catnip)

Send the astronauts a cat, throw in some catnip, and see if it can always land on its feet as it bounces off walls. See if it can stop and just float or if the instinct to run as soon as the feet touch turns it into a superball.

Might be a good idea to have a cat on board anyway... to handle those nasty space cootie infestations. (er, that was a movie reference... Ice Pirates or Spaceballs maybe?)
  • #13
I have one! Glow in the dark ink!

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