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This is a post that explains the sky flying thing that makes a lot of noise and fire
November 19, 2012 6:11 PM   Subscribe

XKCD explains explains the major parts of the Saturn V rocket.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (44 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
"City, we are go for Up Goer Five, over."
posted by user92371 at 6:17 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nice! As a kid growing up in Clear Lake, home of the Johnson Space Center, which still has a Saturn V hanging out by the entrance [though it's now housed and not immediately visible and exposed to corrosion anymore], I got regaled with a much more technical version of this fairly often from my scientist dad, but I really could have used this one. "Bad problem," indeed. I get a little nostalgic for that rocket sometimes -- I can't imagine how many times I've passed it in my life. This would make a great poster.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:20 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ooh! I did not know about the use of the air that makes you talk funny to fill up the space left by cold air you burn - that makes A lot of sense now I think about it, cool.
posted by Artw at 6:22 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sniff. I get all sentimental looking at it. Isn't it one of the most beautiful machines ever built?
posted by deo rei at 6:24 PM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Still the greatest rocket of all time, if you ask me.
posted by Scientist at 6:33 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


"This end should point towards the ground if you want to go to space. If it starts pointing toward space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today."

For some reason, the way those sentences are phrased makes me break out in the giggles every time I see them.
posted by kafziel at 6:43 PM on November 19, 2012 [17 favorites]


xkcd's mentioned his fascination with Simple English Wikipedia before.

It can be hard to explain what you do.
Now try explaining some abstruse bit of it to somebody who doesn't understand the general context of your profession's jargon -- explaining nuclear physics to your grandmother, or literary theory to a statistician.
Now try writing that explanation for strangers, using a vocabulary and grammar that's constrained according to certain rigorous rules.

It's not a shallow exercise. Explaining what you do to people who don't understand it is the essence of education. These extreme disjoints of topical complexity and linguistic simplicity are kind of stunty but at the same time it seems like a good way to make oneself aware of how many assumptions we make of our audiences sometimes.

It's practically Oulipian, but saying that is probably self-defeating.
posted by ardgedee at 6:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I saw this yesterday and really enjoyed it. I think part of what makes talking to young kids fun is that this kind of simplifying exercise is itself so intrinsically fun and satisfying.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2012


A little surprised 'moon' isn't a more common word. But, as always, great job xkcd.
posted by dry white toast at 7:36 PM on November 19, 2012


I'm kind of surprised that often is one of the ten hundred words used most often.

And because they had a really big problem with that part once, I kind of hear the whole thing in Tom Hanks' voice.
posted by localroger at 7:46 PM on November 19, 2012


Still the greatest rocket of all time, if you ask me.

No. Energia was a better basic design, and had the most powerful rocket motors ever built, the RD-170. It didn't have quite the throw weight that that the Saturn V did (88vs118 tons LEO, 32 vs 45 tons to the moon) but it was shorter than the Shuttle stack, massed 2/3rds of the Saturn V, and cost basically a *tenth* as much.

What killed Energia was two things. One was the Soviet Union becoming, well, not. The other is a hard fact of life. There is simply no real use for 75+ tons to LEO other than manned space exploration, and nobody's willing to pay the bills for that.

It also had what has to stand as the most heart stopping launch of any successful boost. At liftoff on it's first launch, it started to fall over until the attitude control system woke up. The booster performed flawlessly after that -- the payload failed, but the booster did it's job just fine. And compared to the N1, it was a gem in the fact that it didn't blow up.

The 2nd launch, the launch of the Buran shuttle, was flawless.

If I had to go to the moon RIGHT NOW, I'd be trying to build Energias, not Saturn Vs. For one thing, they still make the engines.
posted by eriko at 7:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


K O Y A A N I S Q A T S I I I I I...
posted by zardoz at 8:03 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


No. Energia was a better basic design

Yeah but achievement counts, and Saturn actually went to the fucking Moon. That loss of tons to the Moon also isn't trivial. An Energia-based mission would have probably needed two liftoffs and Earth orbit rendezvous to mate systems. That would really suck if one of the two launches failed.

Later designs would of course be better than Saturn, DUH. (Don't need no "ring where the computers are" now. And wow the computer models for aerodynamics and engine design, wouldn't those guys in the 1960's loved to have those.) But the thing is Saturn did what nothing did before and what nothing has done since, and until something else does it it's the rocket that will be enshrined in myth.

(Doesn't hurt that they replaced the moon going booster stage with an entire space station for a pretty successful mission pre-ISS, too.)
posted by localroger at 8:04 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


If anyone wants to try writing anything like this with just a thousand word vocabulary list an XKCD fan wrote an online editor called Up-Goer Five Text Editor.

Considering that my username is more of a dire warning than an idle boast and that the main strength of the English language is made up words and nonsensical bullshit I find it to be excruciatingly painful to use.
posted by loquacious at 8:07 PM on November 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh, has anyone told the SpaceX people that the RD-170 engines are still being made?
posted by localroger at 8:07 PM on November 19, 2012


LOL according to the editor loquacious links, "fuck" is permissible.
posted by localroger at 8:09 PM on November 19, 2012


This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.

If it starts pointing to space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.


Reading this, I am reminded that I haven't played Kerbal Space Program in a while...
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:18 PM on November 19, 2012


No. Energia was a better basic design

The R-7 Semyorka was more ominous-looking.
posted by ovvl at 8:24 PM on November 19, 2012


If anyone is curious why they bothered with different fuels, it's due to the fact that for a given engine size, you can get much more raw thrust out of RP-1 (technical term for highly purified kerosene) than hydrogen due to the fact that the molecules of the combustion product are more massive, and Newton's laws, etc. However, hydrogen's lightness means you get a higher specific impulse, which is the moral equivalent of a MPG rating for fuel efficiency of rockets. Apollo 11 used five giant F-1A engines for the first stage where the grunt work of lifting all that mass was greatest, and then the more efficient hydrogen burning F-2 engines for the second and third stages after a lot of mass had been shed.

Because of the sheer amount of thrust and that lower specific impulse (i.e. being a gas guzzler muscle car) the combined flow rate (kerosene + LOX) of the first stage was just crazy -- around 670 gallons per second per engine, or 3,360 gallons per second total across all five. The RS-25 (Space Shuttle main engine) by comparison had a flow rate of 350 gal/s. You can't just stick a pipe in a tank and expect fuel to flow out that fast, you have to build a hell of a pump to do it. And even more impressively, the F-1/F-1A did it with a single turbine that powered both pumps at once, which was fed by a 55,000 HP gas generator. So in a very real sense, putting a man on the moon came down to building a pump, among countless other things of course.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:06 PM on November 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


(Arg, J-2 for the upper stages, not F-2. Missed the edit window.)
posted by Rhomboid at 9:13 PM on November 19, 2012


Your favorite spacecraft sucks.
posted by bleep at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


A little off topic, but I couldn't resist the editor:

To be or not to be, that is the question:
Whether it is better in the mind to be hurt
By the pain that life throws at you,
Or to take arms against life's troubles
And end them by force? To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart's pain and all the many shocks
That come to living humans. It is an ending
everyone should want. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perhaps to dream: yes, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have slipped out of our bodies,
Must make us stop and think. That's the reason
That we keep going through life's problems.
For who would take time's hurting again and again,
The mean man's bad act, the high man's bad words,
The pain of one-sided love, the wait for truth,
The wrongs of those in power and the bad things
That good people should not have to take,
When he himself might end it with a cut?
Who would carry something heavy,
Would tired and hot pull it through life,
But that the fear of something after death,
The strange place from which
No one returns, holds the will in check
And makes us stay with the problems we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
In this way our minds keep us in fear;
And in this way our own true power
Is made soft and sick by thinking.
And great important plans
By such thoughts are turned and lost
And are not acted on.
Oh! Here is the beautiful girl!
In your songs be all my faults remembered.
posted by drdanger at 10:07 PM on November 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


3,360 gallons per second total

Oh yeah, that's what boggling feels like
posted by flaterik at 10:23 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


drdanger I am impressed by how much is retained
posted by communicator at 10:55 PM on November 19, 2012


It's prose that make you feel dumber as you read it - and yet, I now know more about how a Saturn V rocket works than I ever have before: as a technical writer, this is very interesting.
posted by Ripper Minnieton at 11:13 PM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I like the comic, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed 8:43 of the annotated, slow motion lift off and subsequent pouring water.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:26 PM on November 19, 2012


Travel to space made more simple.
posted by ...possums at 12:04 AM on November 20, 2012


A friend of mine did something similar: Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity (In Words of Four Letters or Less)
posted by hades at 2:32 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bah

The Mad Ape Den (rip) did jot all in one or two or two or one but no two and two nor two and two and one. To say how the big 5 did go off the Orb in one and two or one and one, now it is a big ask of thy.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:38 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Manned space flight is one of the few reasons I miss my childhood. Growing-up during the years of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo was really, really cool.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:11 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This end should point towards the ground if you want to go to space. If it starts pointing toward space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today."

For some reason, the way those sentences are phrased makes me break out in the giggles every time I see them.


"I will not go to space today" has become my new favorite thing to say when I'm having a bad day. It's like an English version of the stuff Bumblebee Man yells on The Simpsons.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:02 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


We look for things to make us go.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:10 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also: that's one small step for man, one big jump for everyone. (Thanks, text editor.)
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:13 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]




xkcd's mentioned his fascination with Simple English Wikipedia before.

It can be hard to explain what you do. Now try explaining some abstruse bit of it to somebody who doesn't understand the general context of your profession's jargon...


This is the exact reason I keep trying to go to the Simple English pages for math concepts I've never used before, but I'm always disappointed. Sometimes I wish the internet wasn't maintained by nerds. A BUNCH OF JARGON AND EQUATIONS IS NOT AN EXPLANATION. (Guy across the hall doesn't get this either. YOUR MATRICES AREN'T HELPING ME. DRAW A PICTURE.)

But if you want to be on the explaining end, nothing beats trying to explain things to kids.
posted by DU at 6:40 AM on November 20, 2012


"Oh, has anyone told the SpaceX people that the RD-170 engines are still being made?"

Yes. Their competition uses a variant of it.
posted by Mcable at 6:53 AM on November 20, 2012




These guys use the RD-170. In fact the boosters on the side of the Energia are the first stage of this rocket.
posted by Mcable at 7:03 AM on November 20, 2012


This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.

If it starts pointing to space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.


This happened on Apollo 6, which was thankfully unmanned (my addition is in italics):.
After the two engines had gone out, the vehicle had maintained a pitched-up attitude known as chi-freeze for far longer than it would have under ordinary circumstances. “Well, the S-IVB lit up,” Flight Dynamics Officer Jay Greene recalled, “and the first thing it said was, ‘Omigod, I’ve got too much altitude.’ And so it pointed its nose straight at the center of the earth.” This battle between the guidance system and the gimbal limits on the engine continued for about eighty seconds, with Greene getting closer and closer to an abort call of his own. When the S-IVB finally gave up trying to get to the altitude it wanted, it had a flight-path angle that was unacceptably low. “So then the little devil said, ‘Well, this is bad, I’ve got to pick up the flight-path angle,’ so it started pitching up, and as it started pitching up it said, ‘Now I’m over speed,’ so it actually went into orbit thrusting backward.”

The plot boards showing where the Saturn had wandered looked as if a drunk had been drawing the trajectory. It was without question the most exciting powered launch anybody in the MOCR had ever witnessed. “A fascinating flight,” Greene said tersely—his very first shift in the MOCR. What was he doing all this time? “Puckering.”1
The next time a Saturn V was launched, it was manned and the mission was Apollo 8, the first time humans orbited the Moon. That was a helluva bold step.

1. Cox, Catherine Bly; Charles Murray (2004-07-29). Apollo (Kindle Locations 5157-5158). South Mountain Books. Kindle Edition.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:21 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just want to point out how cute the Saturn IB (from Apollo-Soyuz) looks, sitting on its booster seat so it can use the big boy gantry.
posted by ckape at 10:41 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's my plan for how to get small things to space cheap.

First, use balloons to lift up some sort of launch platform.

Next, use ground-based lasers to heat up some gas stored in the rocket. Don't perform chemical reactions on the rocket, and don't bother lugging any oxygen around with you to perform combustion with. Just heat it up with lasers and let it spew out the back. Get to orbit this way.

Next, deploy an IKAROS-style solar-sail. Now you can go anywhere.

Sincerely, the Galaxor Nebulon Space Agency.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:08 AM on November 20, 2012


Because of the sheer amount of thrust and that lower specific impulse (i.e. being a gas guzzler muscle car) the combined flow rate (kerosene + LOX) of the first stage was just crazy -- around 670 gallons per second per engine, or 3,360 gallons per second total across all five.

Here's the famous ultra slow motion Saturn V liftoff youtube clip. It has an appropriate Bach organ soundtrack.

And in real time, 35 seconds long. (William Tell Overture soundtrack)
posted by jjj606 at 4:18 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still kind of surprised that "escape" is one of the thousand most common words, but "thousand" isn't.
posted by tavella at 4:27 PM on November 20, 2012


Wow, it is really eerie how well the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor scores that slow motion launch footage.
posted by localroger at 4:32 PM on November 20, 2012


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