This incredible image was captured on the International Space Station (ISS) on February 12, 2023. In it, NASA astronaut and Expedition 68 Flight Engineer Nicole Mann‘s image is refracted through a sphere of water flying weightlessly in microgravity.
Refraction is the bending of light as it passes from one transparent medium to another, such as when light passes from air to water or from air to a glass lens. When light enters a new medium, such as water or glass, it changes speed and direction, which causes it to bend or change its path. The amount of bending that occurs depends on the angle at which the light hits the surface of the medium and the difference in the refractive indices (a measure of how much the speed of light changes in the medium) of the two media.
The phenomenon of refraction has many practical applications, such as in lenses used in eyeglasses or cameras, in the design of optical instruments, and in the study of the properties of materials. Refraction also plays an important role in the formation of optical illusions and mirages.
Nicole Mann is one of the Crew-5 astronauts that arrived on station on October 6, 2022, after launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on October 5. She conducted spacewalks on January 20 and February 2, accompanied by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata, in construction work related to the installation of the International Space Station Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs).
Established in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. Its vision is “To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.” Its core values are “safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence, and inclusion.” NASA conducts research, develops technology and launches missions to explore and study Earth, the solar system, and the universe beyond. It also works to advance the state of knowledge in a wide range of scientific fields, including Earth and space science, planetary science, astrophysics, and heliophysics, and it collaborates with private companies and international partners to achieve its goals.
Commonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars.
Formed in 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was born through the merger of three institutions, namely the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL) and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). JAXA performs various activities related to aerospace, from basic research in the aerospace field to development and utilization and is responsible for research, technology development, and launch of satellites into orbit, and is involved in advanced missions such as asteroid exploration and possible human exploration of the Moon.
NASA astronaut and Expedition 68 Flight Engineer Nicole Mann’s image is refracted through a sphere of water flying weightlessly in microgravity. Credit: NASA