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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"I think I'm on the wrong ship."
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January 10 2013

Saving lives in Serenity: can a fanboy and physics change a movie? A Scientific American guest blogger tries to prove that the movie was "wrong".

Awww. That was a nice read.

The author strikes a really great tone in the article (it's not at all one of the rants about incorrect movie science--which for the record I do usually like :) ) and there were lots of interesting space travel facts as part and parcel.
And ends up proving it right. But much fun and learning ensues!
The essence of fandom - in its purest and richest form.
In "Our Mrs. Reynolds", Jayne only needed a few shots to break the window of the scavenger net station. Presumably that window had to survive meteorite impacts, but Vera was too much for it. Maybe the Reaver spear had special armor-piercing properties, too.

I'm wondering how much weapons technology would have improved by the time of Firefly. Even though they are using projectiles rather than Lassiter lasers, think of modern rifles compared to muskets from the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War.
As I understood things - based on thinks like QMx made reference material - guns in the 'Verse either have a Gauss coil or were updated versions of modern day weapons that use chemical propellants more advanced than what are used now. So I could see Vera firing .50BMG or another big round at hypersonic velocities that would make any rounds fired punch through things like micro-meteor resistant Plexiglas or transparent aluminium or transparisteel or whatever ;P
This is a case where you can over think a bit but I come from the Star Trek school, so that is certainly acceptable.

I might question the premise that a space faring people would not have developed a stronger window than the one in the space shuttle though. I imagine all the debris and satellites combined with the regular travel would require it in order to have ships that don't require a surface based C&C to coordinate every mission. We drive cars because they protect us from a majority of idiotic things we do like driving into poles. So I imagine a ship probably would have some sort of engineering to compensate for accidental collision at a hypervelocity.
I am going to trust Joss and say that the force of the crash weakened the glass to the point that it could be broken by a 100 mile per hour reaver spear.
azxzers: A Stronger glass, yes, so that thin panes can resist a little better than the thick shuttle panes of today, so based on this analysis still not enough to stop ssomethign with that speed, mass, a cross-sectional diameter.
Keep in mind, the writer points out that nothing needed to be changed, that the physics works out (despite his initial gut reaction): "This is over six times the force of the largest recorded impact to a space shuttle window, and almost four times the maximum pressure a shuttle window can take before deforming and failing. The math doesn’t lie—Wash didn’t stand a chance."

Having said that, maybe there was a missed opportunity for a joke. It's all hindsight, but I'm thinking back to the scene where we first see Serenity, when a piece comes flying off... Later on, after it crashes onto the planet, could have had Mal sigh "she held together", followed by the windshield falling off. (Followed by "Leaf on the Wind", followed by nasty metal splinter through the opening...)
Daddy: like Star Trek it's just an analysis based on the writer's whims. I'm fine with the spear penetrating the window as a story element. I'm just saying trying to extrapolate current technology to the Serenity is a bit like comparing a vacuum tube computer to my iPod. We should probably assume that the glass (or clear surface) probably could withstand the analysis as written, because a factor of six seems a reasonable improvement given the regularity space travel was occurring and the need for a craft to be able to survive impacts with larger stationary bodies. You can always improve the spear technology at the same time. :)

[ edited by azzers on 2013-01-11 20:43 ]
Reminds me of the Futurama quote in which the crew is concerned about going underwater.
Professor Farnsworth: Good Lord! That's over 5000 atmospheres of pressure!
Fry: How many atmospheres can the ship withstand?
Professor Farnsworth: Well, it was built for space travel, so anywhere between zero and one.
Much as I wish it didn't happen, the film shows us it did. Saying it is physically impossible doesn't avoid the fact that it did. :(

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