Quiz: What You Don't Know About Space-Age Energy


Photograph by NASA

For more than 50 years we've had the power—literally—to send robots and humans to explore the solar system. See how much you know about the energy innovations that are taking us to the stars and the ways space can affect power generation on Earth.

Quiz by Victoria Jaggard

What fuel did Robert Goddard mix with liquid oxygen to create the first liquid-fuel rocket in 1926?

  • Hydrogen
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Gunpowder
  • Gasoline

Goddard became the father of modern rocketry with a rocket fired by liquid oxygen and gasoline. The rocket's first flight was two seconds long and it climbed 41 feet (12.5 meters).

What type of radiation has been proposed as the most efficient way to send solar power to Earth from space-based collectors?

  • Gamma rays
  • Microwaves
  • X-rays
  • Ultraviolet rays

Microwaves at frequencies up to about 10 gigahertz can move through Earth's thick atmosphere with little energy absorption even when it's raining, allowing most of the power to travel from the solar collector in space to the receiver on Earth.

Solar storms, caused by powerful eruptions of charged particles from the sun, can create extra amounts of what type of current in power transformers?

  • Direct current
  • Alternating current
  • Eddy current
  • Conventional current

The extra currents from solar storms are direct current (DC) flows, but the electricity transmission system is used to handling alternating current (AC) flows. When extra DC flows saturate transformers, they start to overheat and can fail, leading to blackouts.

A U.S. government project is using the world's largest laser array to study what type of power generation that happens naturally inside stars?

  • Photovoltaic
  • Fission
  • Fusion
  • Hydroelectric

The National Ignition Facility at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is using 192 intense laser beams to try to generate controlled nuclear fusion—the merging of two atomic nuclei—as an efficient, low-pollution energy source.

Proponents of mining the moon for resources say lunar soil is a good source of what chemical isotope thought to be useful in generating fusion power?

  • Carbon-16
  • Helium-3
  • Deuterium
  • Dilithium

Moon mining supporters say that lunar regolith contains the highest known quantities of helium-3, a lighter version of the helium atom. This isotope of helium has been proposed as an energy source for fusion reactors.

What was the power source for Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite?

  • Plutonium radioisotope thermoelectric generator
  • Xenon ion propulsion
  • Silver-zinc batteries
  • Solar arrays

Launched by the Soviets in 1957, Sputnik 1 operated on a single watt of power— generated by three silver-zinc batteries—that lasted for 21 days.

How much power could be generated by the full set of solar arrays now on the International Space Station?

  • 110 kilowatts
  • 310 kilowatts
  • 400 kilowatts
  • 900 kilowatts

The eight 112-foot-long (34-meter-long) solar arrays have capacity to generate 110 kilowatts of total power, which NASA describes as equivalent to the usage needs of about 55 typical houses.

Which spacecraft was the first to use ion propulsion—popularized by the Twin Ion Engine, or TIE fighters, in Star Wars—beyond Earth's orbit?

  • Voyager 1
  • Apollo 11
  • Deep Space 1
  • Dawn

Launched in 1998, NASA's Deep Space 1 probe successfully collected data on an asteroid and a comet, in the process proving the effectiveness of ion engines for long-duration space missions.

In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon capsule became the first commercial craft to dock with the International Space Station. An upgraded version of Dragon's nitrogen tetroxide/monomethylhydrazine thrusters is now being designed for what purpose?

  • An emergency escape system
  • Powered landing on Earth
  • Powered landing on Mars
  • All of the above

SpaceX is testing its SuperDraco thrusters for use in an astronaut launch escape system and for targeted landings on Earth or on other worlds.

The large, orange external tank on NASA's space shuttles supplied what two kinds of fuel to the main engines?

  • Liquid oxygen and kerosene
  • Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen
  • Liquid hydrogen and propane
  • Liquid hydrogen and liquid helium

The external tank on the space shuttle held 143,060 gallons of liquid oxygen and 383,066 gallons of liquid hydrogen, which were fed into the main engines at liftoff. Jettisoned before it reached orbit, the tank was the only part of the shuttle system that wasn't reusable.

Developed as a ballistic missile during World War II, what German rocket fueled by alcohol became the basis for the U.S. and Russian space programs?

  • The A4/V-2
  • The R4M Orkan
  • The Saturn V
  • The A9/A10

The A4 rocket, commonly known as the "Vengeance Weapon" V-2, was fired by the thousands at Allied targets during WWII. Afterward, many V-2 team members went to the U.S. or the Soviet Union and helped develop rockets for spaceflight. Among them was Wernher von Braun, who led the design of the Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo 11 moon mission.

Which country launched the first spacecraft with a "hybrid" solar sail, which uses a combination of solar power and radiation pressure to move like a yacht through space?

  • United States
  • Japan
  • Russia
  • China

In 2010 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, launched the Ikaros probe, which used the world's first hybrid solar sail to fly past Venus and beyond.





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