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5 Man-Made Things You Can See from Space (Plus One You Really Can’t)

Nicole Stott, via Universe Today

Which of mankind’s marvels can we actually spot from the final frontier? This question calls for a little perspective. Space is big. Sure, you might be able to gaze at the Amazon River while hovering a few hundred miles above sea level. But from the moon, you could barely even make out the continents! And our whole planet looks like nothing more than a dinky blue splotch from Mars’ surface. Still, astronauts traveling in Low Earth Orbit or on board the International Space Station can see quite a bit using nothing but their naked eyes.

1. The Great Pyramids at Giza

Some squinting may be required to spy Egypt’s greatest monuments in this picture snapped by astronaut Nicole Stott. If you’re really lost, look for a pair of triangular shadows near the center…

2. Bridges

Chris Hadfield, via Huffington Post

Long bridges crossing over straits stick out like a sore thumb. However, identifying them can be a pain. Last year, astronaut Chris Hadfield caught a glimpse of what he thought was the Golden Gate, but may have really been a less-glamorous bay area counterpart.

3. Lonely Desert Roads

Chris Hadfield, via Universe Today

As Hadfield explains, desert highways look like “straight human [lines] drawn onto incredibly rough terrain," making them rather noticeable.

4. Cities at Night

NASA

Space-bound explorers have taken hundreds of nocturnal photos over various urban centers. Here’s a helpful interactive gallery. Go look up a metro area near you.

5. The Greenhouses of Almería

Wikimedia Commons

A sprawling sea of plastic greenhouses covers over 64,000 acres in southeastern Spain. Tons of fruits and veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) are produced here, generating $1.5 billon in revenue every year. 

Kinda, Sorta, Not Really Visible: The Great Wall of China

NASA, via Universe Today 

Let’s get a few things straight. Can you see this ancient marvel while walking on the moon, as many claim? No way. Again, people really can’t see much of any detail Earth-wise from up there. On a similar note, it’s also effectively out of sight for the International Space Station’s crewmembers.

Another persistent rumor holds that China’s Great Wall is the only man-made structure that’s visible from space. As we’ve seen, this is nonsense. This demonstrably-false idea dates back to at least the 1930s, long before manned space missions started taking off!

Yet, one vitally important question remains: Where does space start anyway? By most international standards (even though a certain Air Force disagrees), the boundary between Earth’s jurisdiction and outer space rests approximately 62 miles above sea level.

From this height, the Great Wall is technically visible, at least according to astronauts Eugene Cernan and Ed Lu. However, it’s not exactly conspicuous. Even under the best solar and weather conditions, this landmark is virtually indistinguishable from neighboring rivers and mountains. Therefore, most space-travelers miss the Wall entirely.

In fact, one person who definitely didn’t see it was China’s first astronaut, Yang Liwei. “The scenery was very beautiful,” Liwei said after returning to Earth in 2003. “But I didn’t see the Great Wall.”

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The Fascinating Device Astronauts Use to Weigh Themselves in Space

Most every scale on Earth, from the kind bakers use to measure ingredients to those doctors use to weigh patients, depends on gravity to function. Weight, after all, is just the mass of an object times the acceleration of gravity that’s pushing it toward Earth. That means astronauts have to use unconventional tools when recording changes to their bodies in space, as SciShow explains in the video below.

While weight as we know it technically doesn’t exist in zero-gravity conditions, mass does. Living in space can have drastic effects on a person’s body, and measuring mass is one way to keep track of these changes.

In place of a scale, NASA astronauts use something called a Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) to “weigh” themselves. Once they mount the pogo stick-like contraption it moves them a meter using a built-in spring. Heavier passengers take longer to drag, while a SLAMMD with no passenger at all takes the least time to move. Using the amount of time it takes to cover a meter, the machine can calculate the mass of the person riding it.

Measuring weight isn’t the only everyday activity that’s complicated in space. Astronauts have been forced to develop clever ways to brush their teeth, clip their nails, and even sleep without gravity.

[h/t SciShow]

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Watch Astronauts Assemble Pizza in Space
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iStock

Most everyone enjoys a good pizza party: Even astronauts living aboard the International Space Station.

As this video from NASA shows, assembling pizza in zero gravity is not only possible, it also has delicious results. The inspiration for the pizza feast came from Paolo Nespoli, an Italian astronaut who was craving one of his home country’s national dishes while working on the ISS. NASA’s program manager for the space station, Kirk Shireman, sympathized with his colleague and ordered pizzas to be delivered to the station.

NASA took a little longer responding to the request than your typical corner pizzeria might. The pizzas were delivered via the Orbital ATK capsule, and once they arrived, the ingredients had to be assembled by hand. The components didn’t differ too much from regular pizzas on Earth: Flatbread, tomato sauce, and cheese served as the base, and pepperoni, pesto, olives, and anchovy paste made up the toppings. Before heating them up, the astronauts had some fun with their creations, twirling them around like "flying saucers of the edible kind,” according to astronaut Randy Bresnik.

In case the pizza party wasn’t already a success, it also coincided with movie night on the International Space Station.

[h/t KHQ Q6]

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