a gravity fail goes viral, but is it real?

Gravity can be tricky when you don't seem to understand how it works...
standing on asteroid

My colleague and co-author, Dr. Ian O’Neill asked me to address this little gem that’s been spreading across social bookmarking sites and science blogs. It’s a story of a philosophy class in which a teaching assistant confidently tells students that the reason why the astronauts who walked on the Moon didn’t randomly float off into space was because their heavy boots held them down. I’ll give you a moment to pick up your jaw while we repeat that again. What held Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and every other Apollo astronaut down on the surface of the Moon wasn’t lunar gravity that measures just around 0.167G, but their big, heavy boots.

Now, let’s think about that. Boots by themselves are not heavy, no matter how big they are or what they might be made of. They have mass. But mass is not the same thing as weight. Weight is the force of gravity pulling down the mass of an object. Therefore, if the astronauts’ boots weighed them down to the lunar surface, the Moon would need to have gravity for there to be weight in the first place, rendering the TA’s point not just moot but totally and completely wrong in every way, shape and form possible.

In fact, this story quotes such an incredibly wrong view of grade school science, I’m not sure whether this is a true story or not. It has a pretty compelling part about a general knowledge quiz and a campus survey, but then again this is the internet and you have to stay skeptical. Lacking some names makes the story even harder to verify while the sheer ignorance of the argument offered by one of its central characters, makes it the perfect candidate for internet infamy, sure to be linked to in debates for years to come.

Then again, there are elected officials in genuine awe of continental drift and unable to grasp that naturally occurring things can be dangerous in high enough quantities so I suppose some TA’s who haven’t had a real science class in a very long time might not be that good with Physics 101. What do you think? Is it real, fake or based on real events with a dramatic twist?

# science // education / gravity / moon / space travel

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