Free falling in outer space – Matt J. Carlson


Have you ever been floating
in a swimming pool, all comfy and warm, thinking, “Man, it’d be cool to be an astronaut! You could float out in outer space,
look down at the Earth and everything. It’d be so neat!” Only that’s not how it is at all. If you are in outer space,
you are orbiting the Earth: it’s called free fall. You’re actually falling towards the Earth. Think about this for a moment:
that’s the feeling you get if you’re going over the top
of a roller coaster, going, like, “Whoa!” Only you’re doing this the whole time you’re orbiting the Earth, for two, three, four hours, days. Whatever it takes, right? So, how does orbiting work? Let’s take a page from Isaac Newton. He had this idea,
a little mental experiment: You take a cannon, you put it on top of a hill. If you shoot the cannonball, it goes a little bit away. But if you shoot it harder, it goes far enough so that it lands a little bit past the curvature of Earth. Well, you can imagine if you shot
it really, really, hard, it would go all the way around the Earth and come back — boom! — and hit you
in the backside or something. Let’s zoom way back
and put you in a little satellite over the North Pole of the Earth and consider north to be up. You’re going to fall down
and hit the Earth. But you are actually moving
sideways really fast. So when you fall down, you’re going to miss. You’re going to end up on the side
of the Earth, falling down, and now the Earth is pulling
you back in sideways. So it’s pulling you back in
and you fall down, and so you miss the Earth again,
and now you’re under the Earth. The Earth is going to pull you up,
but you’re moving sideways still. So you’re going to miss the Earth again. Now you’re on the other side
of the Earth, moving upward, and the Earth’s pulling you sideways. So you’re going to fall sideways, but you’re going to be moving up
and so you’ll miss. Now you’re back on top of the Earth
again, over the North Pole, going sideways and falling down, and yep — you guessed it. You’ll keep missing
because you’re moving so fast. In this way, astronauts orbit the Earth. They’re always falling towards the Earth, but they’re always missing, and therefore,
they’re falling all the time. They feel like they’re falling,
so you just have to get over it. So technically, if you ran
fast enough and tripped, you could miss the Earth. But there’s a big problem. First, you have to be going
eight kilometers a second. That’s 18,000 miles an hour, just over Mach 23! The second problem: If you’re going that fast, yes, you would orbit the Earth
and come back where you came from, but there’s a lot of air in the way, much less people and things. So you would burn up
due to atmospheric friction. So, I do not recommend this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *