Flying in an airplane really is a crazy idea. You strap yourself into a metal object, fly 35,000 feet above the ground, and hope to land in one piece. If that’s not crazy enough, you can skydive: People fly to about 14,000 feet up, then jump out of the plane. They open a parachute, a giant piece of cloth that slows them down — but only after falling at 120 miles an hour. Then there’s Felix Baumgartner, who jumped from a weather balloon 24 miles above Earth. Because the air up there is so thin, he became the first person to fall faster than the speed of sound (768 miles per hour). When you travel that fast, your sound waves pile up and make a giant boom called a “sonic boom.” Thankfully, he still remembered to pull his parachute.
Wee ones: Planes fly up before they come down. Look up. What do you see above you? Now look down. What do you see?
Little kids: If you jump out of a plane and take 10 seconds to fall, what numbers do you say to count down? Bonus: If a parachute slowed you to take 10 seconds longer, how long would your fall take?
Big kids: Regular passenger planes fly only about 6 miles above the ground. How much higher was Felix at 24 miles? Bonus: Let’s say you and Felix jump at the same time. If you fall 13 seconds before pulling your parachute and then take another 24 seconds to land, and Felix falls 19 seconds before the chute and then another 11 seconds, who lands first?
Wee ones: Things above you might include the ceiling, a light, or a skylight (window in the ceiling). Things below you might include the carpet, the floor, or stuff you’ve left on the floor!
Little kids: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bonus: 20 seconds.
Big kids: 18 miles higher. Bonus: Felix lands first, in 30 seconds vs. 37 seconds.
Laura Bilodeau Overdeck is founder and president of Bedtime Math Foundation. Her goal is to make math as playful for kids as it was for her when she was a child. Her mom had Laura baking before she could walk, and her dad had her using power tools at a very unsafe age, measuring lengths, widths and angles in the process. Armed with this early love of numbers, Laura went on to get a BA in astrophysics from Princeton University, and an MBA from the Wharton School of Business; she continues to star-gaze today. Laura’s other interests include her three lively children, chocolate, extreme vehicles, and Lego Mindstorms.