Paper Airplane Set to Soar from Space Station

by Steve Levenstein, January 17, 2008

Faster... Lighter... Cheaper... More Flammable!
Fed up with folding tiny paper cranes, a team from Japan's Tokyo University has crafted the highest of flyers: a paper plane that will be launched from the International Space Station and then descend to earth... eventually... hopefully...

On the face of it, launching a paper airplane from the space station is the least problematic part of the deal. Getting down to Earth is a bit more complicated - bear in mind, the space shuttle is zipping along at a scorching speed of Mach 20 (over 15,200 mph) when it hits the atmosphere.

Notice I said "scorching", but that's OK because researchers from Tokyo University say that the neatly folded paper glider "has been treated to withstand intense heat". Now they don't say exactly how the paper was treated... perhaps they'll sandwich it between a couple of extra shuttle tiles and toss it out the airlock.

"To heck with these troublesome tiles, next time let's use paper!"
Am I being too cynical? Fine, let's skip the how and examine just what this crack team of aeronautical geniuses is planning. We'll skip the part about a paper airplane being launched into airless space... still with me? Allrighty then, once the 3-inch long prototype passes wind tunnel tests that will subject it to wind speeds of Mach 7 - that's 5,300 miles per hour - a larger version will be built (well, folded...) and sent up to the ISS to amuse the astronauts. Like Elton John said, it's lonely out in space.

"HAL, open the pod bay doors!"... "I'm sorry Dave, but flying paper airplanes in space is not part of the mission"
Shinji Suzuki, an aerospace engineering professor at TU (what, you thought students trying to graduate dreamed this up?) hopes "the space station crew will write a message of peace on the plane before they launch it." Good luck with that, Shinji!

Since the odds of a paper airplane thrown from Earth orbit actually landing anywhere on dry land are rather long, as is the estimated time of descent (weeks? months?), I'm thinking the space-mad crew will take joy in writing less than peaceful messages on the airplane, such as "Dammit Suzuki, we asked for TOILET paper!" (via Pink Tentacle)