Because of this "weightlessness" astronauts will lose muscle mass and is very important to control their weight during

their stay at the ISS.

Astronauts spend long time in Earth-orbiting spacecraft. The international community has a large spacecraft constantly circling the Earth (The International Space Station, ISS) where astronauts spend many days, occasionally up to 200, performing tasks ranging from maintenance of the craft to experiments of interest to humanity.

Ilustración por Michael Lorenzo vía

How can we weigh astronauts on the ISS?

What would happen to the scale when placed on the ship?
The scale would float like the astronauts, so it would need to be fixed like all objects. But once attached to the ship the astronaut could not stand on it as the astronaut floats. In this experiment students of “Thader” and “Gabriel Miró” High Schools in Orihuela (Spain) have designed a system to measure the mass of the “weightless” astronaut. This consists of a chair with wheels attached to several springs. The astronaut sits in the chair and is swung in the chair. A motion sensor picks up the swing and allows us to see the motion graphics and get their period, as the period is related to the mass of the astronaut through it we can use a simple calculation to measure the mass. The value obtained in this way, and since we are not orbiting the Earth, we can compare with that traditionally obtained with the scale. The students arrived at system very similar to that used by NASA (U.S. Space Agency).

Surely our first thought is to place a scale, such as those used in our bathrooms, in the ship, but we need to think a little more about this.

All scales have an elastic element that deforms when we exert a force on it, for example a spring. So when we stand on the scale we exercise a force on the spring (F) and it contracts, the marks on the scale represent the degree of contraction of this spring and this we transform into a scale, either analog (needle) or digital (numbers). The scale offers over us another force (N) equal and opposite to F. These two forces always have the same value ( Newton's Third Law). In addition and in accordance with Newton`s Second Law the sum of the force N and the weight (P) must be equal to the product of inertial mass by the acceleration which moves the person (N - P = mi a). When we weigh on Earth, the acceleration is zero and therefore N = W and contraction of spring marks our weight, but when we are orbiting the Earth the acceleration is g, therefore N = W - - mi g and N = mgg - mig and since mi and mg have the same value you do not check the balance. The inertial mass and gravitational mass are two different properties of the body, the inertial mass measures the inertia of the body to change its motion status, while the gravitational mass is a property of bodies by which they are gravitationally attracted by other bodies, but they have the same value, so if we know the value of one we know the value of another and this is what allows us to determine the weight of the astronaut and why by another procedure, as in the oscillating chair, we measure the inertial mass.

What do our weighing scale give us?

But if we measure the period, how can we us it to measure the inertial mass?
The period of an oscillatory motion is the time it takes the body to perform an oscillation, that is what is measured by the sensor, the time it takes the chair go back and forth. This time, the period squared is directly proportional to the inertial mass and so we can measure the inertial mass and through it the gravitational mass and weight.

To better understand how we may be able to weigh an astronaut in this way, we may have to think further and ask a number of questions:

What is weight?

Or rather, weight on Earth, according to any physics textbook it is the force with which the Earth attracts bodies. And the Earth attracts bodies because they have gravitational mass. Gravitational mass and weight are related in a simple W=mg g (where mg is the gravitational mass and g the acceleration of gravity).

With the educational program "DATA STUDIO" we get a graph of motion from which, after adjustments, we get the oscillation period. With the data we can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to consider the weight of the chair, resulting in the astronaut's weight

Weight = constant · Period2 - mass of the chair

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