A Moment of Science

Think Pink

Several years ago the Pink Panther had a Saturday morning cartoon show. Terrible disasters were always averted by him with the greatest of ease. Like the time he was inside a falling elevator and, instead of panicking, just stepped out the moment before it hit the ground.

Would this work? Think for a second.

The answer is no. You could indeed step out of a falling elevator, assuming the door was open, but you’d still be falling at the same rate of speed. After just three seconds of free fall, that speed would be 96 feet-per-second. And the longer you fall, the faster you’d be going.

Well, how about jumping upward? Wouldn’t that help to cancel out your downward motion?

Technically, you could do this, but there’s a pretty big catch. In fact, there are several catches. For one, people can jump upward at a maximum speed of around 14 feet-per-second. Now, if you are falling at 96 feet-per-second, and you jump up at 14 feet-per-second, subtract four from six. You’d still hit the ground at 82 feet-per-second. No good.

How fast would you have to be able to jump? Well, to cancel out the free fall, you’d need a rocket boost of some sort that would send you upward with exactly the same velocity. Ninety-six feet-per-second is possible for a rocket, and if it fired the instant before impact. However, remember that your speed is constantly increasing. Just one second later you’d be falling at 128 feet-per-second!

All in all, unless you are a cartoon character, you’d better take the stairs.

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