Space Football Fail! NASA Gives Pigskin a Beating Ahead of Super Bowl 2017

Frozen football
Some of the James Webb Space Telescope's instruments will be chilled to near absolute zero. A football's interior shatters well before that point. (Image credit: ASA Goddard via YouTube)

Can a football stand up to a space telescope's intense testing regimen? In honor of Sunday's Super Bowl, NASA put a football through tests similar to those undergone by its next big space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope.

Turns out, withstanding those telescope tests is no easy feat. A new NASA video shows the football shattering at cryogenic (very cold) temperatures and squishing down severely under intense pressure. The football held together somewhat better spinning in a centrifuge and shaking during a simulated launch. [NASA Goes to Super Bowl 2017 (Photos)]

The tests were performed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, where the Webb is being tested ahead of its launch in 2018. The spaceborne observatory is intended to measure the universe in infrared light, showing heat-emitting processes in the sky. Its mission includes searching for exoplanets and looking for galaxies in the very young universe.

"We'd rather have something break during a test on the ground, where we can understand the problem and fix it, than in space," Christine Nolan Essig, an actor and member of the Webb's outreach team, said in the video.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: