Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Communiqué on Weightlessness

Take a look at the painting on your left. "The artist climbed 23,000 feet in a specially modified plane to work on the piece while weightless," this article purports.

Pause. Now wait a minute. Now cringe.

The terms "weightlessness" and "zero gravity" are constantly thrown around haphazardly, in part because there is a vague misconception surrounding what it means to be "weightless".

The notion that one can experience weightlessness by being high enough above the earth's surface is disingenuous. Weightlessness is not caused by distance from the Earth but by being in orbit!

The International Space Station is 250 miles above the Earth, where gravitational attraction is just 10% less than on the Earth's surface- so how could one experience zero gravity at a mere 23,000 feet (around 4.5 miles) ?

Astronauts at the International Space Station experience weightlessness because they are orbiting the planet, not because they are above it. It is being in orbit that causes you to feel weightless, or gives the impression of floating, when in fact you are continuously falling around the earth.

Notwithstanding, the painting recently sold for $ 75,000. I'm sensing a future barrage of artwork that claims to be made while "in weightlessness..."

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