May 20, 2010

Isaac Newton Honored By Astronaut Aboard ISS

Sir Isaac Newton is getting the royal treatment in space after a British-born astronaut carried a picture of the 17th century scientist and a chip from his famous apple tree up with him to space.

Piers Sellers, who boarded space shuttle Atlantis for its final flight, said Thursday that he placed Newton's picture in the glassed-in dome of the International Space Station. 

"Sir Isaac absolutely loved it, I've got to tell you," Sellers said in an interview with The Associated Press (AP). "We had him in the window, and he got to watch his little wood chip float by and ponder the laws of gravitation and everything, so I think it was a treat for him."

The Royal Society of London provided Sellers with the 4-inch sliver of wood, which he took with him into space aboard the shuttle.  According to the society, it is inscribed with Newton's initials and came from the actual tree in England from which an apple fell nearly 500 years ago and inspired Newton to discover the law of gravity.

Sellers said that Wednesday's ceremony was a dry run.  He said that he will videotape the Newton items later this week for the Royal Society, which is the national academy of science of the United Kingdom.  The society is celebrating its 350th anniversary.

Newton was a physicist, mathematician and astronomer.  Legend says that an apple fell on top of his head while sitting under a tree, which inspired him to define gravity.

Sellers, along with the rest of the STS-132 crew, got some time off Thursday after nearly a week of stressful work in orbit.

The day's big event was the grand opening of the space station's newest room.

The Atlantis crew installed the Russian compartment, named Rassvet, earlier this week.  Station commander Oleg Kotov had the honor of opening it up.

Kotov wore goggles and a mask as he peeked inside and hooked up an air filter.  It was a precaution in case of floating dust, paint flakes or other debris.  He said that everything looked normal.

The new compartment, which is about 20 feet long and 8 feet in diameter, is crammed with food, laptop computers and other supplies that NASA provided.  The space station residents do not plan to unload the provisions until Atlantis leaves on Sunday.

A spacewalk is scheduled on Friday to finish replacing the space station batteries.  Four fresh batteries were plugged in during Wednesday's spacewalk. 

"I am absolutely super pleased" with how the mission has gone, shuttle commander Kenneth Ham told AP. "We're all feeling pretty darned good."

This is the last flight for space shuttle Atlantis, and the third to last flight for the space shuttle program all together.


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