Still stinging over the death of Wash in Serenity? You’re not alone.
Firefly fan Kyle Hill is applying science to the pivotal death in the film to prove that it couldn’t and shouldn’t have happened. Hill is researching this idea for his thesis looking at a variety of factors.
“What if the Reaver spear couldn’t plausibly make it through the forward windows of Serenity?” he theorizes. He then began to apply practical knowledge from current science and space exploration to try and prove his theory and come up with a conclusion.
The first step for Hill was understanding the materials used to build modern spacecraft. He looked at current spacecraft windows, analyzing their thickness and the protection they provide from the vacuum of space. In his research, Hill noted that within the orbit of our planet, space debris, no matter how small travels at approximately 9,000 meters per second. Because of this, current shuttles are outfitted with shielding to prevent a disaster if the shuttle runs into a piece of floating debris. Hill found that the current shuttle windows are two and a half inches thick to prevent a disaster.
Next he looked at an example of what happens when a ship’s window is damaged by debris in the vacuum of space. In this case, Hill selected an occasion wherein a paint fleck struck a window of a ship in flight to an international space station. The fleck caused damage that looked like the indentation of a “sort of miniaturized plate.” Hill estimates the fleck caused “5,000 pounds per square inch impact, creating more than enough damage to warrant a window replacement.”
Now we need to estimate. So Hill eyeballed Wash’s death scene repeatedly and concluded that “If Reavers shoot spears slow enough to be dodged (which they do), the spear that kills Wash can’t be moving much faster than a Major League fast-ball, putting the upper limit on speed around 100 miles per hour (45 m/s). This is orders of magnitude slower than the hypervelocity impacts that a shuttle deals with, but the spear is thousands of times more massive than a fleck of paint. Assuming it’s fashioned out of a metal, and given its size, I’d guess it’s around 100-200 pounds (45-90 kg).”
Hill went on to add, “Kinetic energy is easy enough to calculate, as is pressure. The kinetic energy of a moving object is one-half of its mass multiplied by the square of its velocity. This equation gives the Reaver spear a frightening 101,250 newtons of force at the low end. The pressure exerted by the spear is then equal to the force divided by the area it is acting on. Making the tip of the spear the size of a US quarter, the resulting pressure is a ludicrous 31,800 psi.”
Conclusion? “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.”
Hill’s ultimate conclusion almost isn’t necessary, but, for the sake of finality, he revealed, “Wash didn’t stand a chance.”