Newtonian gravitational experiment in space

It may be more than a century since Relativity took over from Newtonian gravity in explaining the finer points of gravity in extreme situations, but one part of the mythology of Newton stands tall – the tale he was apt to tell in later years about the apple that fell from the tree, inspiring him to think about gravity.

It is now generally accepted that Newton’s actual initial inspiration was either the work of another scientist or his alchemical work, either way, once his mind turned to the problem, the world soon received the laws of motion. Furthermore, the tree Newton identified in the story apparently still exists (or rather several trees identified as such), at least in parts.

One of those parts is now to experience something that would have confounded attempts by anyone sitting underneath it to watch the effect of gravity on things detaching from it. The piece is to head into space, spending a short while aboard the International Space Station on mission STS-132, via the astronaut Piers Sellers, slated for launch on May 14th and lasting an estimated 12 days. The event is part of the 350th celebrations of the Royal Society, thirteenth president one I. Newton.

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