How Astronauts Use Math

May 18, 2023 | Wurzbach

Last blog post, we spoke about legendary astronaut, Alan Shepard, who was the first American in space. This blog post we will be sharing how Alan Shepard, and all astronauts use math in space. Astronaut crews constantly use math to do complex mathematical calculations, including the spaceship's launch and maneuvering.

What Math Skills Do Astronauts Use?

In addition to using basic math skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, astronauts need to have a working knowledge of more advanced math subjects such as trigonometry and calculus. Trigonometry studies the measurement of angles and distances. Thanks to trigonometry we know the distances between the planets from the Earth. When an astronaut needs to calculate the speed they are moving in the spacecraft, if they already know the distance from a particular location they can use trigonometry to calculate the unknown distance to another location point. Without this field of study, space travel would likely be non-existent.

Calculus studies the rate of change, meaning it studies things that move. Objects in space, such as the planets and stars are constantly in motion, so knowing calculus is useful for astronauts when they journey into space. Astronauts use calculus to determine how the spaceship itself moves. For example, calculus is used to determine the rate of speed required for the spaceship to successfully reach space from the Earth.

What Steps Can You Take Today? No matter your grade or math experience, it's always a great time to expose yourself to new and exciting math fundamentals you can use for this potential career path. Here are some suggestions to act on for the upcoming school year.

  • Join a mathematics or STEM club at school or in your community to meet like-minded students and be exposed to various opportunities you may not have been aware of.
  • Get ahead in your mathematics courses. Our Mathnasium center offers advanced math courses to help students taking these challenging courses.
  • Participate in a local STEM fair or competition. An update from the standard science fair, a STEM fair includes projects related to science, technology, engineering, math and sometimes the arts. It allows students to integrate these fields together and is typically more interactive.

Taking off into space may be a distant dream for you right now, but developing strong math skills today can help make that dream a reality. Astronauts may not use all math subjects very frequently, but they will have the foundations to use them when needed. Most importantly, by taking these advanced courses throughout school, you will become more comfortable with complex and abstract math problems and build up your confidence, whatever career path you choose.

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