Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, commander of the International Space Station, squeezes a washcloth in near-zero gravity.

Watch Water Become Zero-Grav Jello on the International Space Station


If you get a cloth dripping wet in the absence of gravity and wring it out, what will happen?

Astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station, set out to answer that question posed by two tenth graders at a Novia Scotia school. The two had won a contest to design an experiment to be conducted aboard the station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth.

The Canadian Space Agency had asked students to design a simple experiment that Hadfield could perform with items on the station. The resulting winner, dubbed “Ring It Out,” won out over 100 applicants. It looked at the effects that weightlessness has on water when wrung out of a saturated washcloth. It tested their hypothesis that the water would not drip, according to a Canadian Space Agency media release.

This isn’t the first time Hadfield has communicated with students. On Friday April 12, the commander chatted by radio with 420 students from Innalik School in the remote Quebec community of Inukjuak, in the Nunavik region. Community members also participated. Last year space station astronauts chatted with Inuit students in Nunavut. (Related: Cosmic-Minded Inuit Chat With NASA Astronaut in Space)

“Our students have been preparing questions for astronaut Chris Hadfield,” said Innalik teacher Haley Digel in a statement just before the chat. “The space contact is an exciting activity, which offers the opportunity to introduce scientific notions to our students in a very concrete manner.”

Questions ranged from asking how many years of training it took to be an astronaut, to how many comets they had seen, to where the hair goes when they shave. In the days leading up to the chat, students were offered workshops to learn more about the Northern Lights, which have been pretty feisty lately in the wake of a few solar eruptions. (Related: Strongest Sun Eruption This Year Headed Straight Toward Earth, Alights Aurora)

The Nova Scotia students designed an experiment so Hadfield could test the hypothesis that water would maintain a jello-like consistency in space.

In the video below, Hadfield tests the water hypothesis by squirting drinking water sideways into the washcloth (which resembles a hockey puck, as the inveterate Canadian explains) and narrating via a floating microphone that hovers in front of his mouth.

The water comes out of the cloth—but goes nowhere.

"The water's all over my hands. It wrings out of the cloth into my hands,” Hadfield says. “The water squeezes out of the cloth, and then because of the surface tension of the water, it actually runs along the surface of the cloth and onto my hand, almost as if you had jello on your hands."

Don't take his (or our) word for it. See for yourself.

More on indigenous astronauts, from the ICTMN archives: Astronaut John Herrington: Space Walker and From Six Nations, Uplink to Chickasaw Astronaut.



Kevin Kobelsky's picture
Kevin Kobelsky
Submitted by Kevin Kobelsky on

This is a great video. It shows the effects so clearly - just as if you were there in space.
I forwarded this to my son's science teacher and he plans to show it at school.
Proud to be a Canadian!