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NASA's Water Balloon Experiments Make Quite a Splash

By: Emily Owens

Popping water balloons in low-gravity has made quite an impact on educators, students, and the scientific community worldwide. In 1996, fluid mechanics scientist, Dr. Mark Weislogel, performed 50 water balloon experiments during a four-day flight campaign aboard a DC-9 at NASA's Glenn Research Center. Live video footage from the experiments has been posted on Glenn's web page for many years and has generated much interest in NASA's microgravity and fluid physics research.

Freeze frame of water balloon ruptureGlenn's water balloon experiments web pages are linked from over 500 web pages from locations around the globe like France, Norway, and Sweden. The footage has been used in classrooms worldwide, including art-imaging classes in Europe. Reference to this work has been made in textbooks, scientific journals, and even in a recent popular novel.

Aside from looking “really cool,” these water balloon experiments serve an important purpose. They are used to show how large liquid drops behave in a low-gravity environment and how easily and rapidly they can be deployed. Experiments like these are precursors to large-scale large liquid drop

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Balloons of different shapes, sizes, and contents were used throughout the experimentation process. In one trial, blue water from a bottle was added to the blob to see what force was needed to break it apart. When the balloon is first popped, the rubber material actually unwraps itself from the large water drop. Due to surface tension and even the gravity of the liquid mass itself, the blob maintains its shape and can be studied by scientists.

Weislogel recently visited Glenn along with some of his graduate-level students from Portland State University, where he currently teaches. The team spent several days performing capillary flow experiments using Glenn's 2.2-Second Drop Tower. “This was a great opportunity for my grad students to take a field trip to NASA and do research where my own career began,” Weislogel said.

For more information, visit: , , or contact Mark Weislogel at

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Tim Reckart
NASA Official: Nancy R. Hall
Last Updated: February 7, 2011
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