Astronaut Plays Zero-G Ping-Pong With a Ball of Water (Video)

Scott Kelly "Ping-Pong" with Water
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly played a game of ping-pong using water as a ball, paired with two hydrophobic ping-pong paddles. (Image credit: NASA)

As astronaut Scott Kelly passed more than 300 consecutive days in space last week, he took a time-out from his duties to play a little ping-pong — not using a traditional ball, but a ball of water.

In microgravity, drops of water turn into floating spheres of amusement. In the cool new video, Kelly squeezed out about a 4-mL (0.14 ounces) drop of water — about 100 times the mass of a raindrop — using a drinking bag on the International Space Station. He then hit the droplet back and forth with two special paddles.

"I wanted to do a little demonstration of these paddles," said Kelly in the video, which was uploaded to NASA Johnson's YouTube channel Jan 21. [Fun in Zero-G: Weightless Photos from Earth and Space]

"They're called hydrophobic paddles, and they repel water, kind of like a raincoat," added Kelly, who is spending about a year on the station along with Russian colleague Mikhail Kornienko. (Most International Space Station visits are five to six months long.) "But up here on the space station, they allow you to play ping-pong with a ball of water."

On camera, Kelly slowly bounced the ball back and forth using two water-repellant paddles. Before they were sent up to the station, the polycarbonate paddles were etched with a laser to create a pockmarked surface, and then spray-coated with Teflon, NASA Johnson Space Center officials said in a statement published with the video. The paddles' roughness and water-repellent properties stop water from sticking as it hits.

Liquid is a challenging thing to manage in space, as space station astronauts experienced during a spacewalk earlier this month. A small amount of water leaking into in NASA astronaut Tim Kopra's suit forced the crew to cut the spacewalk short as a precaution, although Kopra was never in any immediate danger, NASA officials said. The cause of that leak is being investigated.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace