Solving Tim Peake Astronaut challenge


Using 3D Printing in fun and exciting ways is my passion! When I found out about Tim Peake and the Astronaut spacial awareness challenge I thought it would be fun to explore it visually using 3D Printing.

Tim Peake’s book “Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space” includes a challenge that you need to use spacial awareness to figure out where a mark (dot) on a cube ends up after a set of rotations and movements.

The instructions sound very simple, but the possible outcomes vary on how you read those instructions. Apparently there’s a pretty big debate on what actually is the correct answer.

The Instructions

The instructions seems simple. But try to roll it. Where did the dot end up?

Give it a try! Try to visualize the movements in your head and comment where the dot ended up!

Go ahead, comment before you continue!



Why it’s confusing

For a lot of people, hopefully not you, or Tim Peake! It’s hard to keep track of this objects orientation in 3D-space. When you start rotating it. Some see the dot on the right side, one the left. on the back. There’s even a few who got “on top”.

It’s impossible for me to know how people come up with these conclusions. If you answered any of the above, please let us know how you got that!

How the instructions differ in space

It turns out the instructions are pretty interesting when you consider it’s for astronauts.

In space you don’t have any reference points unless you set them. A typical example is that there’s no clear “up or down”. Left/right is pretty easy based on your own orientation. But what happens when you’re facing an astronaut that’s rotated 125 degrees in front of you?

Without windows you can’t use earth as a way of seeing up and down. Although the ISS rotate 4 degrees a minute to keep it facing earth at all times, it’s hard to get an overview of what’s north and sound by just looking at a globe.

This is why we use coordinate systems!

Coordinate systems for space

There’s plenty of ways of using coordinate systems in space, and they can get really complicated. This article on ISS coordinate system is pretty complex but can help you really deep dive into the subject. We’ll however just use a coordinate system to rotate the cube along.

We set this up as a reference of where we’re rotating the cube. Without it, we’re much more open to interpretations when rotating. For example. Forward, is that forward for the cube, for us, for an astronaut upside down? If we set “forward” to be X+ (for example) in our coordinate system, it’s much less likely to be interpenetrated.

For the video we set this coordinate system up, so it would be easy to follow the movements:




Rotating the cube

Deciding how to navigate the cube (forward is X+) we then continue with the rotations. To really make this interactive and cool for you, I’ve set this 3D-animation up so you can follow along.


If that doesn’t help you understand, my video on the subject explains everything a bit deeper.

The amazing result

What’s really interesting is that when we use this coordinate system and “roll” the cube, we’ve ended up in a different location.

On top of that it’s important to know we’ve rotated the cube 90 degrees in Z-axis. So if your cube didn’t just have a dot, but an important instrument or connector on the “dot” side, it’s now in a different orientation.

You can see the “line” that holds the dot in my 3D-model. It’s aligned differently.

Hope you’re less confused about the Tim Peake test! Let us know if you were right the first time!

The video solution was even picked up by Croatian media!

If you’re curious about 3D Printing, check out this introduction to what technology to choose as a beginner.

Solving Tim Peake Astronaut challenge

About The Author
- 3D-visionary enthusiast exploring the world of 3D-printing.With 12+ years of 3D experience from visualization, VFX and CAD-design and the industry itself, I tend to find interest and ideas from the world around me.

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