SCI Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals of all ages come to explore science and technology.

To continue the learning outside our building, we bring you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities, in-depth information about science events and STEM connections in the Des Moines area.

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  • Interview with an astronaut

    By: Taylor Soule, SCI Communications Assistant

    What’s the best space meal? What are g-forces really like?

    NASA astronaut Clay Anderson answered your questions submitted via Twitter, and we added a few of our own at the celebration of Orion’s launch on Dec. 4 at the Science Center of Iowa. Anderson, a retired astronaut, completed two missions to the International Space Station. He joined the Iowa State engineering faculty in 2013. 

    Your Questions, Answered:

    SCI: What do you enjoy most about space flight?

    Clay Anderson: I would say zero gravity and being weightless. To float and play every day, even while you’re working, is quite extraordinary.

    SCI: What’s the best meal served in space?

    CA: I liked Russian food the best. I liked lamb with vegetables and pork with potatoes. American desserts were the best. There was a blueberry cobbler and a cran-apple dessert, which was really good. The Russian soups were really, really good.

    SCI: If you could travel anywhere in the known universe, where would you go?

    CA: I’d probably go to Spock’s home planet of Vulcan. That’s where I’d go.

    SCI: How do you cope with separation from family and friends during space flight?

    CA: NASA does a good job of providing you video-conference capability and Internet protocol telephones, so you can call people. Email was readily available. Today, they have social media, which helps a lot to communicate with people you don’t even know and share the experience. I love what [NASA astronaut] Chris Hadfield did to capture the imaginations of people, and I hope we continue to do that because those are the people who fund us.

    SCI: What are the g-forces like on reentry and takeoff?

    CA: The g-forces are really quite small, less than 3 for entry and ascent. If you weigh 150, you’ll weigh 450 pounds. It’ll be a little uncomfortable, but it’s not unbearable. In the event of an emergency landing on the shuttle, "a ballistic entry," they call it, you could pull for very short periods between 8 and 10 G’s, but it’s very short. Overall, the trips up and back are relatively easy. Now, I’ve never swung at the bottom of a parachute like some of my colleagues who came back on a Russian Soyuz, so I’d imagine that after five months or six months in space, that could be pretty disconcerting to your vestibular system.

    SCI: Do you expect astronaut training to change as we move toward the Mars mission?

    CA: It would be nice if we didn’t have language barriers. Those drive up training times and costs immensely. I certainly hope it would be more video-based training, where you can look at something and watch a video and then do it. When you start to travel from the Earth, the communication time gets much longer, and you’re going to want to be more autonomous in what you can do. It’s much easier when you can learn it through video rather than reading a bunch of words.

    SCI: What’s the most exciting science experiment you conducted in space?

    CA: We did several interesting ones. I don’t know that any were hugely exciting. The problem is that you gather data, but you don’t hear the results right away. We burned some things in space. Those experiments were interesting in that it could lead to better smoke detectors on Earth. I’m big on what the payback is for Earthlings. I required all my scientists who were having me do their experiments to tell me why a taxpayer should care, and that was hard for some of them to do because they’ve never thought about it before. It was really important for me to make sure people understand why their investment of tax dollars is important and what the gain is back here on Earth. I do it on Twitter and Facebook, too. I try to let people know there is a return on their investment. They just have to have the patience to see it.

    SCI: Why are you passionate about working with freshman engineering students at Iowa State?

    CA: With commercial spaceflight coming to the forefront, we need engineers, whether they be mechanical or aerospace. If I can excite them about engineering, specifically aerospace, for this case, I think that’s important. My goal as an instructor is to work on some new capabilities, new ideas and innovations that will allow Iowa State graduates to be considered a cut above some other graduates by virtue of their experiences. I am trying to come up with ways to make them think like astronauts. I’m not trying to make them into astronauts. I am trying to get them to think like astronauts. I’m training them to be thinkers.

  • Meet SCI's Jr. Paleontologists

    Were dinosaurs purple? Pink? Green? Or all of the above? What did Earth look like when Futalognkosaurus and Giganotosaurus reigned? We have just the experts to answer these questions!

    Our 7- to 11-year-old “Jr. Paleontologists” were chosen because of their enthusiasm and expertise for all things dinosaur, and they are eager to answer your questions about the wow-worthy traveling exhibition, Ultimate Dinosaurs. Consult these Jr. Paleontologists at SCI’s $5 Family Night on December 12, where they’ll be ready to answer your questions and show off special Ultimate Dinosaurs activities!

    Until then, let us introduce you to a few of these Jr. Paleontologists:

    What made you want to be a Jr. Paleontologist at the Science Center of Iowa?

    Sadie, 8: I’ve always wanted to work at the Science Center, and when I heard they were doing paleontology, I wanted to intern so I could learn more about dinosaurs.

    Landan, 10: I’m really interested in the dinosaurs. I’ve liked them ever since I was in first grade, and I always wanted to learn more about them because they’re really interesting. 

    Chloe, 8: I’ve always wondered about nature, so I wanted to learn more, so I went to the library, and I found this dinosaur book, which looked really interesting, and ever since, I’ve wanted to be a paleontologist.

    Resean, 11: I learned that birds are technically a dinosaur! 

    Cadence, 8: I wanted to become a Jr. Paleontologist because I’ve always wondered about the history of dinosaurs. I wanted to be a Jr. Paleontologist because it sounded like it would be very interesting.

    Why do you like teaching others about dinosaurs?

    Sadie: It makes me feel proud that I’m teaching the world about dinosaurs.

    Landan: If dinosaurs ever came back, so they would have knowledge to know how to escape, so they wouldn’t get eaten.

    Chloe: Then, they get to share what I’ve learned instead of trying to find all of the books and trying to go everywhere instead of just listening to people who know about it. 

    Resean: For them to get interested.

    Cadence: It’s really cool because you can help other people learn more.

    What color do you think dinosaurs were when they lived on the Earth?

    Sadie: I think that they were brown, green or other bright colors to show off to mates.

    Landan: Well, maybe dinosaurs that didn’t need to hide could have bright colors, so they could attract females. Maybe if they had to hide, they could have colors that would match their habitat, so they could hide from predators or even help predators catch their prey.

    Chloe: Different colors, actually. Nothing can be just one color!

    Resean: All colors except for… never mind, all of them.

    Cadence: I think they were mostly brown, blue and green.

    What do you think the Earth was like when the dinosaurs were alive?

    Sadie: I think it was kind of like the Earth right now but no buildings, no people, no man-made stuff. One big continent of dinosaurs. 

    Landan: No humans, nothing we created. A lot of forests, deserts, water. In that time period, the Earth was all put together into one big continent.

    Chloe: It must have looked different. 

    Resean: All the continents were squished together.

    Cadence: All the continents were stuck together, and when it got closer to the dinosaurs being extinct, all the continents were all apart in seven continents.