Astronauts Need Math

Astronaut-EVA
Click the astronaut to play a game in space!

I remember patiently explaining to my parents that I don’t actually need math because I have a calculator. I held the device out to them. My name was drawn on the cover with liquid paper, and I showed them the buttons for ‘sin,’ ‘cos’ and ‘tan,’ which I’m not sure that I could use today.

To be fair, I mainly use math to calculate how much money I’m not making as a journalist. I also subtract from that amount in order to pay an accountant to help me with my taxes and then try and hide the invoice from my husband who insists I should have the numerical skills to do this myself. So feel free to use me as a cautionary tale for your students and children.

If a freelance journalist isn’t terrifying enough to make kids crunch their numbers, then you could try some positive reinforcement by telling your children about some cool (and lucrative) careers that rely on digits.

There are a lot of careers worth mentioning, which is why Matific is going to run this as a series. Feel free to hit us up with suggestions.

I’m going to start with the coolest career of them all: an astronaut.

If your child confidently starts to suggest that that they won’t need math up in space, you can bring them down to earth with these simple facts.

For astronauts to go to space, they have to rely on precise mathematical calculations to leave the earth’s atmosphere and to work out their trajectory. The machinery and equipment designed to keep them safe is meticulously tested using intricate mathematical data.

The astronauts themselves may also use math to solve pretty complex problems. For example, if their aircraft runs out of fuel they need to work out when to fire the ship’s thrusters, which direction to fire them in and how long to fire them for, in order to return to Earth intact. Admittedly, this is a worst-case and (thankfully) a fairly unlikely scenario but a good scare-tactic nonetheless.

Day-to-day astronauts in space are likely to use math in order to conduct their experiments. These include seeing how bacteria breed in microgravity and also testing the design properties of various materials.

You can conduct your own experiment and see if your children can make sense of all of these results without an understanding of math. I couldn’t.

Sources
http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/
http://weusemath.org/

Marina Gomer is a journalist and mother of one.  She lives with her family in Sydney, Australia.