Weekly Challenge 4: You Want Me to Do What With a Bathroom Scale?

 Posted by DrJeff on June 29th, 2009

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This post is a Dr. Jeff’s Weekly Challenge and a Teachable Moment in the News.


As I write, NASA engineers at Kennedy Space Center are working mightily on space shuttle Endeavour to repair a hydrogen leak that scrubbed the June 13, then June 17 launches. Endeavour is headed for the International Space Station. NASA reports that the next flight opportunity is July 11—WHICH MEANS I’ve got plenty of time to get ready for my way cool experiment.


I’ve heard a lot about weightlessness, and astronauts having a great time floating around. The shuttle flies at an altitude of 210 miles (340 km) when rendezvousing with Space Station. (For a cool take on this read my earlier post The Business Trip.) So I wanted to find out first hand what’s going on up there. Since they don’t have a spare seat, I looked far and wide to find an amazingly tall mountain whose peak rises to the shuttle’s orbital altitude. See my mountain in the picture? Mt. Everest is only 5.5 miles (8.8 km) high. MY mountain is 210 miles (340 km) high. It took me some time but I finally found it south of the Land of Make-Believe, down a not too well traveled path. Still, you’d think someone would have noticed it.


While the shuttle is delayed I’m going to take the time to climb my mountain, and in my hand is my trusty bathroom scale, spring-loaded and guaranteed to be accurate at any altitude. I’ll camp out at the top until the shuttle is launched, and I’ll wait until it flies right by my mountain, so I can look in the windows and see them weightless.


Here now the challenge—

As soon as I confirm they’re weightless in the shuttle, I’ll look down at my bathroom scale to see my weight. If I weigh say 150 lbs (68 kg) when I’m standing on my scale in my bathroom at home, what will I weigh on top of my mountain?


Hint: I’m not asking you to actually calculate my weight. I’ll do that (if I need to) in the Solution to the Challenge. Your assignment—if you decide to accept it—is to guess what you think I’ll weigh. Hmmmm, lots of possibilities.


Answer now posted here!


Photo credit: NASA (there was no mountain in their photo—promise.)



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