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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Orbital Mechanics
To be fair, my job at NASA was working on robots and didn't actually involve any orbital mechanics. The small positive slope over that period is because it turns out that if you hang around at NASA, you get in a lot of conversations about space.
Title text: To be fair, my job at NASA was working on robots and didn't actually involve any orbital mechanics. The small positive slope over that period is because it turns out that if you hang around at NASA, you get in a lot of conversations about space.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Potentially complete, does not duplicate content that can be learned elsewhere
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

Here Randall roughly plots how high school physics, undergraduate-level physics and a job at NASA somewhat increased his knowledge of orbital mechanics. But this learning (and some fading away of the learning, through non-use) was apparently nothing compared to the "direct" experience of playing with Kerbal Space Program, a rocket building and piloting sandbox game.

Orbital mechanics can be somewhat counterintuitive. The art of changing orbits involves relative velocities, positions, and times in complex interactions. As soon as you try deviating from a perfectly regular orbit, or start having to deal with N-body problems and orbital resonances, you have to coordinate your movements in possibly counterintuitive ways. It's no longer a matter of just pointing where you want to go (the events in the film Gravity notwithstanding) and hoping for the best.

The title text describes learning by osmosis while undertaking ostensibly unrelated work at NASA. It's a bit of understatement, as if you might not realize that people at NASA tend to talk about space a lot.

See also:

  • 1244: Six Words ("it works in Kerbal Space Program" it is not good argument for NASA)
  • 1106: ADD ("land a rocket on the moon in Kerbal Space Program" was a task finished)


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
How Well I Understand Orbital Mechanics:
[There is a graph with the X-axis labeled as 'time' increasing in the positive X. The Y-axis is unlabeled but it can be assumed that it could be labeled 'understanding'. The line stays flat until the first bump, which is annotated "Took High School Physics". The line decreases, then grows to a higher maximum with the annotation "Got Physics Degree". There is a small amount of decrease until a gradual bump in the graph labeled "Actual Job At NASA". It gradually decreases to pre-NASA levels, but then begins to increase exponentially. The annotation reads "Started Playing Kerbal Space Program".]

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