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Space Station vacancy, lead balloons on the fly and more


By Michael Banks and Tushna Commissariat

You may remember that the “classical crossover” soprano star Sarah Brightman had been undergoing strenuous training at Moscow’s Star City complex before hitching a ride on a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station (ISS) in September. The singer was set to pay a whopping £30m for a ticket that would have seen her embark on a 10-day journey into space. Brightman even recorded a special song in March that she was planned to perform on the ISS itself – you can watch the 5 News report above. But Brightman has now postponed the trip, putting out a brief statement on her website citing “personal family reasons” for the decision. One beneficiary of Brightman’s no-show will be the Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu, who had been training as Brightman’s back-up. Whether he’ll do his own version of her planned performance isn’t clear.

The classic idiom “to go down like a lead balloon” could soon be redundant, thanks to a team of students at the University of Bristol. By painstakingly creating a 1.6 m3 cube made from thin sheets of lead foil, the students from the university’s design engineering department have proved that a lead balloon can actually rise. After filling the cube with air and helium, they tethered the structure to the ground allowing it to rise by about 5–6 m. “If we’d let it go outside, we’re fairly sure it would have gone shooting up,” says team member Tom Bewley. It was not, though, all plain sailing getting air to stay in the balloon. “I would love to say that the whole thing was a seamless operation, but there was a huge amount of failure and revision involved,” he recalls. The students teamed up with Icon Films, to design and construct the balloon for the BBC’s The One Show. You can watch the clip about the students’ balloon on the iPlayer if you live in the UK.

A new series of short films titled Novel Thoughts allows you a rare view into the libraries and reading habits of eight Cambridge scientists. The films look into the books that have played a major role in the scientists’ lives. In the first film, physicist Paul Coxon talks about how Jan Wahl’s SOS Bobomobile inspired his own inventions in the lab as he built new apparatus. You can watch the short film and let us know what’s your favourite or most inspiring book in the comments below.

Elsewhere on the Web, find out why July is a bad month for physics and read about Tom Wagg – the schoolboy who found an exoplanet during his work placement.

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One comment to Space Station vacancy, lead balloons on the fly and more

  1. MJB

    Imagining personal family reasons might be “Sarah, please don’t spend £30m for the chance to get lost in space. Please buy us extra nice birthday prezzies instead!”


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