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What happens when you submerge GoPro in water...while in orbit?

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station had some fun with a GoPro video camera and a blob of water, learning something about how cameras perform in space along the way.

During Expedition 40 in the summer of 2014, NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman — along with European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst — explored the phenomenon of water surface tension in microgravity on the International Space Station. The crew "submerged" a sealed GoPro camera into a floating ball of water the size of a softball and recorded the activity with a 3-D camera.

A video of a GoPro camera inside a free-floating bubble of water in outer space looks as cool as it sounds. And exploring the phenomenon of water surface tension in microgravity is actually more fun than it sounds.

In a video posted on NASA's YouTube account this week, astronauts aboard the International Space Station during this summer submerged a sealed GoPro camera into a floating ball of water roughly the size of a volleyball and recorded the activity .

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It gets better: They uploaded the video again, in 3D.

The video alternates shots from a camera filming the submerging process with those from the GoPro once it's inside the bubble.

NASA astronauts Steve Swanson and Reid Wiseman, and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, appear just as thrilled as their Earthbound audience  – practically squealing as the camera floats around in the globulous H2O.

"That's wild," one observes before they all wave to the GoPro staring out from the bubble at them.

When one astronaut's hand gets stuck in the bubble – it appears to move like an amoeba (or silly putty?) up his hand – another exclaims: "You're being assimilated!"

Without Earth's gravity to pull water down into the shape of whatever container it's in, surface tension will shape water into spheres. Magnetic-like molecules on water’s surface make like an elastic skin as each molecule is pulled with equal tension by its neighbors.

The video is part of NASA's effort to bring a realistic representation of living and working on the International Space Station "and other fascinating images from the nation's space program" to the home computer, says a NASA statement.

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"Delivering images from these new and exciting locations is how we share our accomplishments with the world," said Rodney Grubbs, program manager for NASA's Imagery Experts Program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "As the industry made advances in technology, from film to digital cameras and then cameras with better resolutions, we all benefited by seeing sharper and cleaner images from space."

Decades of recording and documenting the astronaut experience have led to unexpected scientific discovery, as during long-duration flights there is a degradation of the cameras.

"Increased radiation is part of the space environment and, while the hull of the station protects the astronauts, small radiation particles can still penetrate," said Grubbs, who is also the principal investigator for the 3D camera study on orbit. "They may not do any detectable harm to the crew, but these same particles will damage the camera's sensors resulting in 'hot' or white pixels on the video.”

These pixels show up as white dots on images beamed back to Earth and station cameras had to be replaced every eight to 12 months. But when Grubbs and his team sent up the new 3-D camera, the number of burned out pixels they could see in footage dropped from the thousands in the standard cameras to virtually zero, leaving a much cleaner image.

The camera was sent back to Earth on the first SpaceX-Dragon splashdown in 2012 for investigation, where scientists found the overlay of the two stereo images forming the 3D picture may have helped lessen the appearance of damaged pixels, Grubbs said.

More importantly, NASA said, the camera performed better because it used a complementary metal-oxide semiconductor sensor, and not the more traditional charge-coupled device imaging sensor in previous cameras.

"Both are ways to turn light into electrical signals that eventually are saved to a memory card, but it seems like the CMOS is less susceptible to radiation and can therefore create a clearer image," according to the statement.

Scientists and engineers are interested in this 3D camera investigation for possible future use to determine proximity in space and for rendezvous and docking operations.

In the meantime, Grubbs's team plans to send up a camera that can shoot nearly six times the resolution of an HD camera, encouraging the crew to record more video to share with the public.

And NASA has a request for that public: "Make sure to have your popcorn and 3D glasses ready because it can get topsy-turvy working on an orbiting laboratory with no floor or ceiling."


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