Newton’s Laws of Motion in Space!

Join NASA and explore the laws of motion in space!

By NASA

Parmitano with fruit in Node 1 module (2013-07-28)NASA

Newton’s First Law of Motion: An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an unbalanced force.

SpaceX Demo-2 Rocket at Pad (2020-05-21) by NASA/Kim ShiflettNASA

The forces acting on this rocket are balanced; therefore this rocket will remain at rest.

SpaceX Demo-2 Liftoff (2020-05-30) by NASA/Kim ShiflettNASA

Once an unbalanced force is applied to the rocket, the rocket accelerates upwards.

NASA astronaut and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover works with the Astrobee robot aboard the space station to test an adhesive for robotic grasping and manipulating as part of the Astrobee/Gecko-2 experiment. (2021-04-15)NASA

Gravity causes both the International Space Station and astronaut Victor Glover to orbit the Earth. Astronaut Victor Glover will continue floating through the ISS unless an unbalanced force, like grabbing a handrail or bumping into an object, is applied to him.

Cold Atom Lab Unloading ISSNASA

Newton’s Second Law of Motion: The total force is equal to mass times acceleration (F = m x a). Mass and acceleration are inversely proportional, meaning that as mass increases, acceleration decreases and as mass decreases, acceleration increases.

Coleman unpacks CTB in the Columbus Module (2011-02-15)NASA

If a large force is applied to a small mass, it will have a large acceleration. If the same force is applied to a larger mass, it will have a smaller acceleration than the smaller mass.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Demo Flight - Liftoff (2018-02-06) by NASA/Kim ShiflettNASA

The Falcon 9 Heavy rocket on the other hand has a mass of 1,420,788 kilograms and produces a force of 20,820 kilonewtons during liftoff. This rocket requires a larger force to accelerate during liftoff because it has a larger mass.

Commercial Crew Program Astronaut Training - Nicole Mann (2018-11-26) by NASA/James BlairNASA

Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means that forces exist in pairs.

Wakata exercises on the aRED (2014-02-02) by Koichi WakataNASA

A force pair identifies two interacting objects and describes the direction of the force acting on each object. The ARED uses Newton’s Third Law to make it possible for astronauts to exercise in the weightless environment of the International Space Station.

CCP Astronauts - Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED) PT #2 (2018-10-10) by NASA/Robert MarkowitzNASA

As astronaut Suni Williams applies a force onto the ARED platform, the ARED platform applies an equivalent force back onto her in the opposite direction.

Expedition 65 Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency is pictured inside the Columbus laboratory module setting up hardware for the Grip experiment (2021-04-26)NASA

To watch Newton’s Laws of Motion in action aboard the International Space Station, visit www.nasa.gov/stemonstation

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