Previously, I posted a discussion I had with my physicist friend about the non-fatal terminal velocity of a cat. We came to the conclusion that though a cat can fall any distance and survive, tossing a cat at cruising altitude would cause said cat to pass out from lack of oxygen. Thus, the cat would not be able to use its righting reflex to minimize its terminal velocity, and it would plummet horrifically to the ground.
The reasonable follow-up question, of course, is “What if you gave the cat an oxygen mask?” This is where things get tricky. The oxygen mask (and tank) would NOT cause the cat to fall any faster, as Newton demonstrated. It would, however, increase the falling mass, and thus increase the force with which the cat would impact the ground, since Force=mass(acceleration).
Now, this increased force is what has the potential to injure our intrepid cat. How can we reduce this force? I don’t want to get to deep into computation of the mechanics, but suffice it to say that the answer is to reduce the Kinetic Energy of the falling cat by reducing its terminal velocity. If its terminal velocity is even slower with the breathing apparatus than without it, the cat could still touch down unharmed. This might be achieved by designing the breathing equipment in a way intended to maximize drag. However, the equipment also must be flexible enough to allow the cat to manipulate its body in the air to use its righting reflex.
This problem has now entered the realm of engineering, rather than pure physics. In order to safely toss a cat from cruising altitude, we need an apparatus that will allow the cat to breathe, add enough drag to counteract the increased mass, and be flexible enough to all the cat all its normal range of motion. Are there any ambitious engineers out there with unlimited resources and lots of free time?
Or I suppose we could just give our cat a scuba tank and a parachute, but where’s the fun in that?