Physicist breaks down death-defying stunts of ‘F9’, including launching car into space
As this week we all have the opportunity to see culture at its peak: by F9, the ninth installment of the Fast and furious franchise, Vin Diesel drives his franchise to the moon. Tej and Roman, the ever-feuding characters of Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson, are the ones taking giant leaps into the cosmos – and as they do, the film taunts us with its daring.
“As long as we obey the laws of physics,” Tej says, “we’ll be fine.”
By boldly bringing this franchise where no drag racer has gone before, director Justin Lin made sure to consult the experts. âI’m on the phone with scientists, learning about fuel and physics,â he said. Hollywood journalist. âIt was great to have the scientists on the other side say, ‘Wait, what? What are you trying to do? ‘ I love it.”
So how legitimate was the end result?
After emailing a good chunk of New York University’s physics faculty (you know, especially those who seemed to know things about space), I spoke with Masha Baryakhtar, a postdoctoral fellow. specializing in particle physics who will soon join the University of Washington as a professor. Helped by detailed and not at all confusing explanations of the movie stunts of This Whiplash Quickly Fanatic, Baryakhtar offered his expert opinion on several of the film’s stunts, including, yes, this rocket car.
Sending a car into space on a rocket is not a totally crazy notion; as Baryakhtar pointed out, Elon Musk launched a Tesla into space in 2018 with a dummy passenger named Starman “because he thought it would be cool to send extra garbage into space.”
But in this case, Baryakhtar said, âit took a whole big rocket ship counting down with a huge explosion, and then you kind of kicked the car off of that. So if you tell me that a rocket took a car into space, it takes a lot of work and a lot of money, but in principle it was done, right?
Among the main concerns associated with modifying a rocket car? Prevent passengers from exploding into a vacuum. A first step, Baryakhtar said, would be strong insulation around the car. The insulation seen in the movie doesn’t look particularly thick, but the car did have a heat shield.
Any glazed surface, such as a windshield, Baryakhtar added, would be a hazard. (The car in the movie appears to have altered windows.) And the last hurdle would be making sure there is actually enough fuel to drive the vehicle afterwards. No spoils, but rest assured F9 at this covered angle.
Okay, but what about the other stunts? If someone were to, say, cross a monkey bridge that crashes behind them, could they cross to the other side by vroum-vroum-as fast as they can love Dominic Toretto? Not exactly, says Baryakhtar. They would roll into a cliff.
OK OK. But what about the one where they rush through a minefield where the explosives are spaced something likeâ¦ maybe 3 meters apart?
âIf you’re going really fastâ¦ you can’t turn in real sharp angles,â Baryakhtar said. âBecause then you would fly away; you wouldn’t have enough friction to hold you back.
One could presumably navigate a minefield slowly, Baryakhtar said, but not at the speed Dom and his crew tend to like.
“All of these examples, she said, could work kinematically.“
By the time I got to Dom by descending a cliff, throwing a grappling hook from his car, then rappelling around a mountain, Baryakhtar had started to decipher the physics of the Quickly universe. All of these examples, she said, could work kinematically. âIt’s just a question of how much force will be exerted on the people inside the car – and if they will all be totally destroyed. “
âAll of these things, there is a grain of truth,â admitted Baryakhtar. âBut they are taken to the extreme. This is what I would say.
Okay, one more: what are the odds that someone could go straight through a billboard while fighting in the back of a moving semi-trailer and just continue to truck? Response: âI would say that’s a pretty clear ‘no’. “
Okay, but what if that person was John Cena? âOh, so yeah. “