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Northampton students learn from Stratos 'space jump'

  • Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Student Lucy Sloan talks about her mechanical physics class and its effort to watch a skydiver make a historic jump to  Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Student Lucy Sloan talks about her mechanical physics class and its effort to watch a skydiver make a historic jump to Tuesday morning.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Physics teacher Eric Newman incoporated an attempted 690-mph plunge by a skydiver into his physics lessons this week.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Physics teacher Eric Newman incoporated an attempted 690-mph plunge by a skydiver into his physics lessons this week.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

    Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.
    CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Student Lucy Sloan talks about her mechanical physics class and its effort to watch a skydiver make a historic jump to  Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Physics teacher Eric Newman incoporated an attempted 690-mph plunge by a skydiver into his physics lessons this week.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS
  • Eric Newman teaches a mechanical physics class at Northampton High School Tuesday morning.<br/>CAROL LOLLIS

Hopes kept accelerating and decelerating in Eric Newman’s physics classes, as students tracked the progress throughout the day of the Red Bull-sponsored “Stratos” jump by Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner from 120,000 feet above Roswell, N.M.

“This is history,” said senior Jarian Fred, as the countdown to the jump began in Newman’s first-period class around 8:30 a.m.

Tuesday’s expected 690-mph plunge, in which Baumgartner planned to leap from a pressurized capsule to break the sound barrier, was eventually canceled due to windy weather conditions on the ground. Another launch date was not yet firmed up (see accompanying story).

On Monday, more than a dozen of Newman’s students had agreed to spend the first part of their Columbus Day holiday together watching Baumgartner, 43, execute a historic skydive from three times the cruising altitude of the average jetliner. Their teacher said they were “lured” by the dual promises of extra credit and coffee at Haymarket restaurant on Main Street. But that launch was also canceled, due to windy conditions in the upper atmosphere that threatened to tear the enormous helium balloon that would transport the former military parachutist’s capsule to the record-breaking jump height.

For Newman, the Stratos skydive offered a teachable moment he couldn’t ignore.

“We’ve been studying things like velocity in class,” he said. “But it can be hard to grasp the real magnitude of a free fall like this.

“In physics we talk about how equations work if we ignore air resistance,” added Newman, who is filling a one-year position at NHS while physics teacher Amy Johnson is on maternity leave. “With this jump, done from high up where those factors are eliminated, we get to see how it all works in the extreme.”

NHS junior Hannah Noseworthy got permission to leave the end of her Tuesday afternoon trigonometry class around 1:30 p.m. to watch the live streaming of what she’d hoped would be Baumgartner’s jump on a computer screen in Newman’s classroom.

She said she was fascinated by the physical challenges involved.

“I do like watching people jump off of things,” Noseworthy said. “And I enjoy learning about the physics.”

Sam Lev, also a junior, said he was drawn to the social-scientific aspects of the planned jump.

“I’m looking at it from a technological point of view,” said Lev, a student in Newman’s first-period class. “It’s amazing that they can broadcast this live. It’s like when they landed on the moon.”

Cameras on the Stratos website had a deliberate 20-second delay in case Baumgartner’s pressurized suit failed or other accidents occurred.

As a clock on the website ticked off the seconds to the hoped-for launch around 1:30 p.m. (11:30 a.m. in New Mexico), senior Eliana Zimmerman recalled that her late grandfather had seen many similar countdowns in his career as rocket scientist for NASA’s space station in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

“This is such a cool event,” Zimmerman said. “It definitely puts what we’re doing in class in context.”

Newman pointed out that NASA scientists were also watching Baumgartner’s leap from 23 miles up, hoping it would hold valuable lessons for astronauts in high-altitude disasters.

“Up to now, there was no method for astronauts to escape,” he told the students. “This is a stunt, but it’s one that is being looked at carefully by NASA and others.”

While the historic skydive didn’t materialize Tuesday, Newman said his students will continue to explore the event in class this week. A worksheet he handed out at the start of the day asked them to calculate how much time it would take Baumgartner to fall if there were no air resistance and what his speed would be on the way down.

As he left Newman’s classroom just before the final school bell, senior Harrison Tremaine said tracking the skydive had been educational — and a bit of a roller coaster ride.

“It’s funny that Red Bull is always sponsoring these things that get your adrenaline pumping,” he said.

Related

Skydiver Felix Baumgartner cancels second try at supersonic jump in New Mexico

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ROSWELL, N.M. — Blame it on the wind. Again. For the second straight day, extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner aborted his planned death-defying 23-mile free fall because of the weather, postponing his quest to become the world’s first supersonic skydiver until at least Thursday. As he sat Tuesday morning in the pressurized capsule waiting for a 55-story, ultra-thin helium balloon to …

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