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Can a Cheeto damage the International Space Station? Reddit decides

The International Space Station (ISS) is a 925,300-pound laboratory constructed of titanium, Kevlar and high-grade steel, but could the massive ship survive an impact of a single Cheeto Puff orbiting Earth?

The question was raised by a seven-year-old, which has sent Reddit into a debate that attracted aerospace engineers and a scientist who says they helped design the ISS.

One self-identified aerospace engineer says that even at impact velocities of some 33,000 miles per hour, the Cheeto Puff would vaporize into a cloud of plasma and may leave a dent – or ‘a bit of an orange stain.’

However, another Redditor who claims to have been part of the ISS design team notes the potential damage depends on where the puff hits the ISS – at such speeds the tiny snack could knock out a few solar arrays.

 

One self-identified aerospace engineer says that even at impact velocities of some 33,000 miles per hour, the Cheeto Puff would vaporize into a cloud of plasma and may leave a dent – or ‘a bit of an orange stain’

Astronauts aboard the ISS do worry about being hit by objects like space junk.

Last September, the massive ship was forced to make an emergency maneuver to avoid hitting a piece of a 2018 Japanese rocket.

NASA said 25 such events had occurred between 1999 and 2018 but so far in 2020 there have already been three.

However, it is safe to assume the ISS crew is not on the lookout for orbiting Cheetos, but a seven-year-old was and asked their parent for an answer.

However, another Redditor who claims to be part of the ISS design team notes the potential damage depends on where the puff hits the ISS – at such speeds the tiny snack could knock out a few solar arrays aboard

However, another Redditor who claims to be part of the ISS design team notes the potential damage depends on where the puff hits the ISS – at such speeds the tiny snack could knock out a few solar arrays aboard 

‘Would an orbiting Cheeto Puff destroy the International Space Station if the two of them directly collided? My 7yo daughter asked me, and I had no clue. I said probably,’ reads the original Reddit post.

The thread has gained more than 238 comments since Thursday, but some of the most interesting come from users claiming to be experts in the field.

A user, who goes by Letter_13 and self-identifies as an aerospace engineer, gave a lengthy and scientific explanation to why they believe the Cheeto is no match for the ISS.

‘The brittleness means that as the leading edge of the puff impacts a surface at those speeds, it immediately begins to fragment/vaporize—the puff has very low cohesion so it doesn’t want to really remain together in a single shape, and only a little energy is needed to make it break apart,’ reads Letter_13,’s post.

‘As it breaks, some kinetic energy is imparted into what it’s hitting, but a very large quantity of that kinetic energy is redirected to the sides, or at an angle (if it impacts in a non perpendicular way).’

The user also notes that space would ultimately weaken the puff and any destructive powers it may have had due to the idea that oil tends to boil off in a vacuum and vaporizes on its own.

‘The cheeto puff would lose its (high) oil content, which in turn would significantly reduce the mass, in turn reducing the inertia (and at the same time decrease its density and increase its brittleness),’ they added.

However, Redditor ‘danielravennest’ says they worked on the ISS design and the little snack could cause damage depending on where it hits.

They note the Cheeto could knock out a few solar cells upon impact if it struck the plastic backing of the solar arrays, which have been ripped apart in the past by other objects.

‘At the typical impact velocities in orbit, objects are moving faster than the speed of sound and carry more kinetic energy than it takes to turn them into plasma,’ danielravennest wrote.

‘Critical areas of the ISS are protected by ‘Meteor/Debris Shields’ (Whipple Shields). These are sheet metal spaced away from the module hull, air tanks, etc. So on impact, the object and the part of the shield they hit are both turned to plasma, and sprays out in a cone. So the module hull isn’t damaged unless it were a large object.’

EXPLAINED: THE $100 BILLION INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION SITS 250 MILES ABOVE THE EARTH

The International Space Station (ISS) is a $100 billion (£80 billion) science and engineering laboratory that orbits 250 miles (400 km) above Earth.

It has been permanently staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts since November 2000. 

Research conducted aboard the ISS often requires one or more of the unusual conditions present in low Earth orbit, such as low-gravity or oxygen.

ISS studies have investigated human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy and meteorology.

The US space agency, Nasa, spends about $3 billion (£2.4 billion) a year on the space station program, a level of funding that is endorsed by the Trump administration and Congress.

A U.S. House of Representatives committee that oversees Nasa has begun looking at whether to extend the program beyond 2024.

Alternatively the money could be used to speed up planned human space initiatives to the moon and Mars.

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