Yesterday, Felix Baumgartner jumped from 24 miles up, briefly traveled at supersonic speed and landed safely with a parachute. While it’s highly debatable whether this stunt did anything to advance science, it makes for utterly awesome science teaching. In fact this is so rich that it made me wish we were still home schooling our kids because science class in school is beholden to the curriculum.
So I was reduced to a walk to school with my youngest but here are some of the things we talked about. Why is it so cold up there? Why does he need an oxygen supply? Why does he need a pressurized suit? We didn’t even get around to talking about the speed of sound or breaking the sound barrier. It’s been a while since I have had quite so much attention to questions of science — our son was simply enthralled by all that could have gone wrong with this jump.
And there is so much more that one could dig into. Neil deGrasse Tyson had a great tweet pointing out that 24 miles is not very high up — when scaled to the size of a classroom globe it would be about one millimeter. While that makes the jump seem short it points out just how little atmosphere we really have available to us. Which in turn could be a terrific lead in to talking about the environment.
I hope that science teachers who don’t feel entirely bound by the curriculum make use of this unique teaching opportunity before the kids move on to the next Youtube video.