We’re All Doomed: The Real Lesson of Bubble Boy

I found out about “Bubble Boy”, the Colorado boy who had supposedly snuck into a weather balloon built by his family and was stuck inside as it went skyward, probably the same way as you: Twitter. I looked frantically for a live feed, found one, and watched as this helium balloon slowly started to shrink and collapse to the ground. At one point during the newscast, however, there was a moment to show just how far TV news has fallen.

The local anchors were interrupted by a medical doctor, who pointed out that if there wasn’t some compartment for oxygen in this balloon,the boy was probably dead from asphyxiation. One of the talking heads stopped and said, “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.” That’s when I realized that no one had asked the family what was inside the balloon. Was that small compartment at the bottom of the balloon supposed to hold a child? Were we fooled by the helicopter camera into thinking that the bottom compartment would have even fit a child?

And go further. Would a weather balloon, even built with a compartment for a human to ride along, fly as high and as far as it did with a passenger? It’s been 20 years since I’ve been in a physics classroom, but I would think that a balloon capable of carrying, say, a 40-50 pound boy would have to be bigger than the apparent size of the balloon. Go a step further- since no family would build a balloon to only carry a child (except for, say, the Addams family), the design would have to consider at least one adult passenger. Think of the size of a hot air balloon, which can hold a few people. Wouldn’t a weather balloon designed for human flight have to compare in size to a hot air balloon?

I wish I had thought of this while the drama played out. But I didn’t;  like you, I was swept away with the amazing visual of this balloon flying in the sky with a little boy inside.

No one asked questions, and we all got surprised when the boy wasn’t in the balloon, but rather in the attic. So heart-warming. What a happy ending.

But we got suckered. And no one asked the right questions.

The next time you wonder how we ended up in the Iraq war, or how New Jersey has the highest tax rate in the land and a corrupted state government, just remember the time you spent staring at the Bubble Boy that wasn’t, and ask yourself, “Why didn’t we ask questions?”


Side note: I’m still working on my Baltimore Comic-Con wrap-up. In the meantime, my friend Glenn Walker posted his take on the day.

Say Something!