How many mouse clicks would it take to put the space shuttle into orbit?

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Questa volta abbiamo cercato una curiosità scientifica:

It takes energy to click a mouse button. How many clicks per second would it take to launch the space shuttle entirely into its usual orbit height?

Ed ecco le risposte degli esperti:

Well, I didn’t expect to spend the morning balancing things from my desk on my mouse, but here were are.

The weight of a pen wasn’t enough to depress the button for a click, but the weight of a Lego Star Wars Millienium Falcon was enough (the small one that fits in your palm, not the big one). The weight of a chain of paper clips seemed close, but it was hard to effectively balance. If I were inclined, I’d find a way to add a few more paperclips and get the exact number of paperclips that’ll put it over the threshold.

If the weight required to depress the button is somewhere between 10 and 100 grams, then the force required is somewhere between 0.1 and 1 Newtons (because I am on earth and am stationary in earth surface gravity). The button depresses a millimeter, so that means it requires about 0.0001 to 0.001 J to click. This is about a billionth of a food calorie, so unless you’re clicking a trillion times a day, or hundreds of millions of times a second, you won’t be able to burn off your daily calories from clicking.

A space shuttle going into orbit is slightly harder to calculate the energy of, because of course it is.

The space shuttle’s destination was usually the ISS. I know that if I could drive straight up, I could get there in about 3 hours, so that means it’s about 400 km up. The space shuttle weighs about a thousand tonnes, so that means it requires about 10^12 Joules to go up against gravity. In terms of calories, that’s equivalent to a day’s food for a city of 100,000 people.

I also know that astronauts on the ISS get to see 16 sunrises a day, which means the orbit takes about 90 minutes. The radius of the orbit must be about 7000 km, so its speed is about 10 km/s which sounds about right. Getting a space shuttle up to this speed also uses about 10^14 Joules. In food units, that feeds NYC for a day. No wonder those fuel tanks are so big.

Comparing 0.0001 J to 10^14 J, it looks like about 10^18 mouse clicks would be required. That’s a quintillion clicks. The space shuttle rocket has enormous power output though, meaning that it uses all this energy very quickly. The burn happens in the span of a thousand seconds or so. If every person on earth worked together to click their mouses to collectively achieve the same power output, we’d all need to click 100,000 times every second for most of an hour in order to rival the power of a rocket launch.