(See update, below: The project is no more -- CS)
I've recently been re-introduced to the world of paper airplanes, thanks to my son -- who, to put it mildly, thinks my half-remembered designs aren't nearly as cool as the ones that an assistant teacher at his school makes for him.
Well, Miss Sally, you've met your match: The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the University of Tokyo have designed a 14-inch paper plane that, if all goes well, will be tossed out of the International Space Station next February. It's made of paper fashioned from sugar-cane fiber (which is then chemically treated), draws on Japan's tradition of origami for its form-- and, most importantly, has already endured speeds of Mach 7 and temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit in earthbound tests.
The plan is for the shuttle Discovery to carry several of these paper planes to the space station, where the Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata will be in residence. He will either launch the planes earthward himself or use the station's robotic arm to do so. Of course, we may never know if the origami planes survive the descent. To increase the odds that the engineers who built them will learn of their fate, the planes have been imprinted with messages, in 10 languages, explaining where the planes came from and giving contact information for Japan's space agency.
UPDATE: Pink Tentacles reports in a New Year's roundup that the plane project was canceled in December -- before I had posted the item -- for safety and other reasons. My apologies for providing outdated information.
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