Astrojax – The Yo-Yo Of The 21st Century

Need a break from today’s big must-read overviews on the Patriot Act and the Catholic priest pedophilia scandal? Me, too. So I blew $5 at the grocery store and now I’m the proud owner of a set of Astrojax. They’re a cross between a yo-yo and juggling balls, although that doesn’t begin to describe what they can do. This toy has to be seen to be believed.

Certainly watching Astrojax in zero-G justifes the $100 billion dollar investment in the International Space Station. As part of NASA’s TOYS IN SPACE program, astronauts on the international space station (NASA mission STS-111) played with a set of Astrojax PLUS on Tuesday, July 16 2002, at 12.00 Houston time. In a live broadcast on NASA TV they answered questions from school children invited by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Asked whether Astojax works in space, Astronaut Peggy Ann Whitson said: “Astrojax are actually a lot of fun here in space too” and went on demonstrating the toy. And it worked indeed! It kept spinning even after the Russian astronaut let go of it and was beautifully floating through space…
For those of you who missed the live broadcast, a summary of the event is available on QuickTime Video.

There’s a lot of physics spinning in these three little balls. My classical mechanics professor in college could have spent a whole semester writing down the Hamiltonian equations of motion for this thing. My cats could pounce at the bright red balls for hours as I clusmily (so far) spin them – or at least until they found out I bought the hard plastic Astrojax instead of the foam one. Oops.