Mars has been the source of fascination for writers of science fiction for more than a century. Even today, after decades of knowledge about the Martian landscape, which has included orbiting probes and rovers that have landed to collect samples. However, before humans even came close to red planet, writers have set their sights on our closest planetary neighbor. Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles stories in the 1940s, but thirty years before that, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the John Carter of Mars series.
It took a hundred years to make that book series into a big-budget feature film, but Disney achieved that last year when Pixar director Andrew Stanton helmed what might be the biggest financial disappointment for the Mouse House (at least until Gore Verbinski gave us The Lone Ranger this past summer). Still, many have heralded John Carter for its scope and vision, including staying as true to the original source material as possible in today’s world of blockbuster cinema.
Some have said that John Carter was the first action hero and possibly the first superhero. After all, he certainly acted like one, leaping across the Martian desert. These feats of leg strength began when he first arrives on Mars, learning to walk on a new planet. Once he gets his Mars legs, John Carter is able to jump like the athletic love child of Superman and Michael Jordan. It starts with long bounds, but soon he is able to vertically leap over people, Martians, and even several city blocks about half-way through the film.
This got us thinking. If we teleported our out-of-shape, chubby bodies from Earth to Mars, would we also be able to jump as far as John Carter does?
The Answer: Not really… and we’d die
As with many book adaptations, the explanation for John Carter’s ability to jump is glossed over in the movie. So, in the interest of fairness, let’s go back to the original source material, Edgar Rice Burrough’s A Princess of Mars:
“I found that I must learn to walk all over again, as the muscular exertion which carried me easily and safely upon Earth played strange antics with me upon Mars.
Instead of progressing in a sane and dignified manner, my attempts to walk resulted in a variety of hops which took me clear of the ground a couple of feet at each step and landed me sprawling upon my face or back at the end of each second or third hop. My muscles, perfected attuned and accustomed to the force of gravity on Earth, played the mischief with me in attempting for the first time to cope with the lesser gravitation and lower air pressure on Mars.”
So there you go: gravity and air pressure. Get those two things to the level of what’s on Mars, and you’ll be good, right?
Not really. The idea of lower barometric pressure on Mars is interesting because it’s rarely considered. Burroughs (using 1912 science, of course), assumed that with a thinner atmosphere, the weight of the air itself would not be pressing down on Carter as it did on Earth. However, when it comes to gases, barometric pressure has very little affect on weight. If it did, I’d move my fat ass to Denver and become a basketball star.
Also, it’s important to note that the air isn’t just thinner on Mars. Compared to Earth, Mars barely has an atmosphere, with a barometric pressure hovering around 600 Pa, which is less than 1% of Earth’s atmosphere of 101.3 kPa. He’d pretty much die of explosive decompression upon arrival.
But gravity is less forceful on Mars, isn’t it?
Absolutely, it is. The acceleration due to gravity on Mars is only 3 m/s/s, compared to the 9.8 m/s/s we’re used to on Earth. In other words, things weigh roughly one-third on Mars that they do on Earth. This would definitely allow John Carter to leap several feet in the air and maybe even jump over people and Martians. However, leaping over buildings and especially the equivalent of several city blocks would be out of the question.
With little affect from the low barometric pressure and one-third gravity, Carter would basically be able to jump three times as high as he could on Earth, or three times as far. Not thirty. Or three hundred. Not even Taylor Kitsch could do this.
How can we know for sure?
As long as you don’t believe crazy conspiracy theories (and let’s face it, if you do, you’ve got an entire internet at your disposal for that and shouldn’t be wasting your time on this site), we have the moon landings in the 60s and 70s to demonstrate this for us.
While the astronauts were weighted down with their space suits, totaling approximately 380 pounds each when they factored in the 180-pound space suits, there’s oodles of video evidence showing their ability to perform what appear to be superhuman feats. During the Apollo 16 mission, astronaut Charlie Duke tried to vertically jump as high as he could, reaching four feet off the ground from standing still. He ended up falling over and, fearful of tearing his suit with another attempt, stopped the shenanigans.
Those moon jumps were with one-sixth the Earth’s gravity and zero barometric pressure. Even then, these were far from the leaps we see in John Carter. (But damn, Lynn Collins still looks hot, doesn’t she?)