Science pushes back

Science knows how to push back.

In the irrational exuberance that followed Sunday’s daredevil jump from 24 miles above New Mexico and Texas, Americans were a little too scientifically challenged in stating the significance of the event.

Like this Facebook favorite, for example.

baumgartner_meme.jpg

For the most part, the world of science has been relatively quiet but enough is enough.

Writing on the Discover Magazine website, freelance space writer Amy Shira Teitel reveals why the jump wasn’t everything you might think it is and less…


It was touted as being a jump from space, but 24 miles isn’t space. There’s no clear limit where the atmosphere ends and space begins, but the general consensus is that it’s around the 62 mile mark. NASA, which was established to run the space game in 1958, has awarded astronaut wings to pilots who’ve flown higher than 50 miles. Calling the Stratos event a jump from space is just not true (widely known as “#spacejump” on Twitter); unfortunately, with eight million people watching, those eight million people now have a mistaken idea about space.

This was far from the only misinformation associated with the event. Red Bull did a terrible job at presenting Kittinger’s 1960 jump. A real shame, especially since Kittinger was the person directly in touch with Baumgartner during his fall (his capsule communicator, or “capcom”).

“I have to wonder how much we’re gaining if the public is excited by space exploration but doesn’t understand the technology behind it or why it matters,” Teitel says.

Ouch.

  • BJ

    I think the ‘science community’ should have just let people actually enjoy science for a while. Instead of proving to others how smart they are. They might have actually gotten some funding out of congress but now they have gone and told them, “well red bull doesn’t really have a better space program”. Remember Todd Akin and Paul Broun sit on the congressional science committee – they might have thought it was real.

  • Jim!!!

    Neil’s tweet reminds me of this quote: “Over billions of years, on a unique sphere, chance has painted a thin covering of life—complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans (a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature), have grown in population, technology, and intelligence to a position of terrible power: we now wield the paintbrush.”

    — Paul MacCready, Jr.