Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Educational Cab Ride

Earlier today I had to take a cab from the commercial terminal to another airport nearby where there was no commercial airline service, but where the airplane I was to fly was parked. I had the most interesting cab driver; we covered a few interesting topics on the ride over.

For example, he asked me at what altitude we flew the Citation X, and I told him 51,000 feet (though we don't usually fly that high). He was very surprised, and I told him that the commercial airliners usually fly in the upper 30,000 foot range, and at the altitudes above are a lot of business jets. Then he told me about a show he watched about an experiment in the 60s. Now, I vaguely remember a long ago experiment of a guy jumping of an insanely high altitude. But the cab driver said he thought it was like 140,000 feet and it had taken the guy 27 minutes to get down. So he was curious, if they said the guy was traveling at up to 650 miles per hour, why did it take so long to travel this distance (1 mile = 5280ft, so 140,000ft = about 26 miles)? I gave him the best answers I could, based on my limited knowledge, but I promised him (and myself) that I would look it up when I got back.

Here's the story: (Wikipedia) On August 16, 1960 Colonel Joseph Kittinger made the final jump from the Excelsior III at 102,800 feet (31,300 m). Towing a small drogue chute for stabilization, he fell for 4 minutes and 36 seconds reaching a maximum speed of 614 mph (988 km/h or 274 m/s) before opening his parachute at 18,000 feet. Pressurization for his right glove malfunctioned during the ascent, and his right hand swelled to twice its normal size.[1] He set records for highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall (4 min), and fastest speed by a human through the atmosphere[2].

So, the cab driver thought that the experiment was to find out more about high altitude bailouts and wondered if the special space suit was really necessary. I told him that at the very least, people needed to be protected from the cold. For example, the temperatures at the altitudes commercial airliners fly are usually around -40 degrees celsius. Brr! can you imagine how cold it was at the altitude that Kittinger jumped? Well, given that the standard atmospheric temperature lapse rate is 2 degrees celsius / 1000 ft....

Well, here's a more technical site that says: He experienced temperatures as low as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and a maximum speed of 714 miles per hour, exceeding the speed of sound.

We talked about a few more things, to include World's Most Powerful Particle Accelerator Set to Launch; Stretching 17 miles around, a mammoth machine that straddles the Swiss-Franco border will soon start launching the biggest experiments ever attempted in high-energy physics. The fear, he was saying, was that people were causing it a doomsday experiment, as written in this article: "Talk of the experiments triggering black holes has led to some sensational newspaper headlines about the collider leading to the end of the planet, but scientists at CERN say it's not the least bit dangerous."

Certainly the most interesting cab ride I can remember!

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