Okay, sorry guys. But this makes me SO mad. I mean, come on! USA Today once did a poll on American education, and it showed the "average" number of the planets in the solar system was guessed at 6. The average!!! That means a lot of people guessed lower than 6. There are 9 recognized planets (10 if you count Quaoar, but in 1992, it was 9). Man. Also a lot of engineering students assumed astronauts didn't "just float off the moon" because they (oh man), "were wearing heavy boots."
This is why we must continue to explore space. To get away from these people. Okay, no, that's mean. No, I mean we have to keep pressing for people to have, at least, basic science knowledge. I am not asking for your average Joe to know the molarity of a HCL sample by sniffing, because he'll ask why this "hickle stuff" was "burning his hand." No, I want all basic biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geography, meteorology, and geology to be a requirement to pass being allowed to watch TV. Just basic stuff like "gravity attracts" and "acid burns" and a general knowledge about the Table of Elements. That sort of stuff.
Name the nearest star to Earth. Did you guess Alpha Centauri at 4.3 light years? You want extra credit for getting the distance right, too? No. Wrong. It's a star called Sol, and it's one AU away from earth. Our own sun. Is a star. It's that huge flaming ball in the sky you see during the day, and when you stare at, you get eye ouchies.
I saw the CNN blurb over and over... (the screenshot is from someone else, though) and laughed that kind of neurotic hysterical laugh I have when I am both terrified and amused at something so blatantly ignorant. So I tried to amuse myself by imagining what might have happened at 18 times the speed of light. Well, I couldn't get past the 1*c (just the speed of light), because the mass of the space shuttle turned to energy, and exploded with force of ... well, to scale it down, a standard size Milky Way bar, when totally converted to energy, would blow up with the strength of 66 atom bombs like the ones they dropped on Hiroshima. I'd say even the "fun size" would be enough to wipe out every major city on the US east coast. So, something the size of the space shuttle ... over Dallas? At 18c? I am trying to picture the whole shuttle's mass turned to energy, and blowing up like a small star in our upper atmosphere, wiping out most of the Western hemisphere in some hot shockwave that, but again, I am thinking at 1c only. 18c... 18c... (ponder ponder... and the gears in his head go round and round... round and round... round and round...).
Of course, when you go PAST the speed of light, like 1.1c, no one is sure what happens, because no one has ever gone past the speed the light, a 186,000 miles per second limit (at least in our Universe... those reading this from George Lucas's universe may be different with the Kessel Run being done in less than 12 parsecs). Let's leave out all the junk about relativity, because while interesting to me, I think I have lost most of my readers already. I want to keep this simple, and not talk about tachyonic particles and stuff. Let's just look at 18 * 186,000 mps. That's 3,348,000 miles of distance in 1 second. The diameter (width) of the earth at the equator is 7,926 miles wide. Hell, the average distance from where you are right now and the moon is only 222,264 miles. So in 1 second, traveling at 18 times the speed of light, you could go to the moon and back almost 8 times ... in 1 second. You'd reach the sun in about 28 seconds. Hell, that causes all kinds of interesting things. You could see the sun, zoom back to Earth, then wait almost 8 minutes and you could see yourself leaving the sun with a telescope, because it takes 8 minutes for the light near the sun to hit the Earth. It only travels at 1c. So if it zipped over Dallas, by the time the light from the time you saw it got to your eyes, it would have already been several times past the moon's orbit, and be gone. If it hit the Earth at that speed... now my assumption falls apart, because we have to convert mass to energy from the impact to determine crater size for a 250,000 lb mass at 18c and... ow, my head. Okay, it might just be enough energy to blow up the planet to smithereens in an explosion and shockwave that would shatter the moon to particles the size of M&Ms. My friend Jason might have a better time with this than I am having, he's got a PhD in Astrophysics.
So, no. Okay, I know what you are saying, they meant 18 times the speed of sound. Actually, at sea level, they were going only 16.4 times the speed of sound (at 12,500 mph), but at the height they were at, the speed of sound is actually less ... but not enough to make a difference; they still died.
Which leads me back to what could be the biggest tragedy that might occur from this accident: delay of the space program. Look, the fact they get such a huge piece of machinery up there and back at all, with government-bought parts, who gives the contract to the lowest bidder, like how school cafeteria food is selected ... it's a miracle. Add that to low pay for research scientists, the horrific bureaucracy, constant budget cuts, supplier price bloating, being dependent on keep the public interested with almost no PR department ... it's a wonder we have a space program at all. I mean, it's not they aren't careful. Each mission something new goes wrong, and it takes some huge group of human brains in space and on the ground to fix it. That's how we learn, by mistakes. Sadly, this mistake cost human lives. But that's the nature of the business. I'd say the space program killed only 17 astronauts in more than 50 years. In three accidents. Now, how many bus drivers have been killed in 50 years? Garage mechanics? Police and firemen? Yeah. A lot more. None of those jobs have been banned yet. They just made them safer.
Please support your local science program. Please tell the government to spend more on research, or take some time on your own to volunteer for museums and schools. Hell, do your own research!
Don't let this tragedy make us even more ignorant.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000039.html