2950: Situation

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Situation
We're right under the flight path for the scheduled orbital launch, but don't worry--it's too cold out for the rockets to operate safely, so I'm sure they'll postpone.
Title text: We're right under the flight path for the scheduled orbital launch, but don't worry--it's too cold out for the rockets to operate safely, so I'm sure they'll postpone.

Explanation[edit]

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a Shark, the iceberg of the sea TOO SOON - Please don’t change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon. TOO SOON.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic depicts a situation involving multiple pieces of infrastructure: a ship, sailing towards icebergs, which is tethered to an airship flying next to a power plant towards a bridge. Each of these are labelled with details that clearly reference famous disasters, all of which were caused (at least in part) by design failures. All of these incidents are common case studies for engineers studying how things can go very wrong. The implication is that, by putting them all together, most engineers would be highly concerned with the potential for catastrophe.

"Unsinkable Ocean Liner" refers to the RMS Titanic.
The Titanic was a British ocean liner which famously sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. It was the largest ship in operation at the time, and was called "unsinkable" due to its size and much-lauded design features. The ship struck an iceberg on the fourth day of its first voyage, breaching the hull and ultimately causing it to sink, resulting in 1,496 deaths. Multiple design inadequacies (although none without precedent in contemporaneous vessels) were afterwards identified as contributing to the rapid speed of the ship sinking and to the high loss of life. These included too few lifeboats (despite being designed to accommodate enough for her full passenger capacity), the use of steel that became very brittle at low temperatures (although not known at the time) and compartments lacking watertight ceilings (therefore allowing water levels within to top over into previously unaffected sections). However, a significant part of blame should also be attributed to a series of reckless practices commonplace at the time, such as lax signaling discipline and a general disregard for the hazards of collisions (Titanic's captain having previously gone on record stating he believed an iceberg to be incapable of sinking a vessel up to modern day construction standards and consequently ran near full speed through known ice fields). Furthermore, a number of operational mistakes were made, such as slowing the ship in response to the imminent collision and therefore reducing its maneuverability, incorrectly reporting her position as being on the other side of the ice field, and not informing passengers that the ship was sinking when calling them out of their cabins, nor sounding a general alarm.
"Hydrogen-filled Scout Airship for Iceberg Spotting" refers to the Hindenburg Disaster.
The Hindenburg was a German airship which used hydrogen as a lifting gas. In 1937, during a landing in New Jersey, the ship caught fire and the highly combustible hydrogen quickly ignited, causing the ship to crash and resulting in 36 deaths. While the origins of the fire are still debated, the apparent dangers of using large amounts of such gas in airships were made dramatically clear (although the accident also showed that at least some sorts of accidents are actually more survivable with an airship; if a heavier-than-air aircraft had caught fire and crashed to earth from a similar altitude as the Hindenburg, there would've been few if any survivors, compared to around two-thirds of the airship's occupants).
Ironically, the airship in the comic appears to have been commissioned for the purpose of mitigating iceberg risks (unless 'iceberg spotting' is for the purpose of steering the 'Unsinkable Ocean Liner' towards icebergs, perhaps as a tourist attraction).
"Soviet Era Nuclear Reactor Undergoing a Turbine Test" refers to the Chernobyl Disaster.
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is located near the city of Pripyat, in Ukraine (part of the Soviet Union at the time of the disaster). On 26 April 1986, a reactor core partially melted during a turbine test. This led to an explosion, causing a massive release of radiation. This incident remains the worst nuclear accident to date. The disaster was determined to have resulted from a combination of human error and uncommon circumstances for which the reactor wasn't designed.
The number of fatalities from the disaster are difficult to calculate; two people died from the initial damage, twenty-eight more from acute radiation sickness, and fifteen people who were directly exposed developed terminal thyroid cancer. The radiation, however, spread far beyond the plant itself, and the number of premature deaths ultimately attributable to subsequent exposure can't be calculated directly, though most estimates are in the thousands or tens of thousands. Radiation contamination still affects wildlife in the accident exclusion zone.
"Bridge Prone to Aeroelastic Flutter in High Winds" refers to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, a suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Washington, was initially built in 1940. From the time of its construction, the bridge was observed to sway and flutter in high winds, and was nicknamed "Galloping Gertie". About four months after opening, in 40 mile-per-hour (64 km/h) winds, the bridge fluttered so violently that it collapsed into the strait. There were no human fatalities, but one dog died and several other people were injured. This collapse is frequently used to demonstrate the dangers of harmonic vibration in infrastructure, particularly structures exposed to strong winds. The bridge was eventually rebuilt, with a redesign intended to prevent such fluttering.
The title text refers to the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.
The Challenger was an American space shuttle which broke up shortly after its launch in 1986, killing all seven crew members aboard before reaching orbit (but successfully avoiding harm to anyone underneath its flight path, as this area had fortunately been cleared of occupants for range safety reasons). The disaster was caused by a failure of O-ring seals on one of the shuttle's rocket boosters and the subsequent leak of hot gases. The likely cause of these failures was the seals being unable to maintain their integrity due to being well below their design temperature range in the immediate lead-up to being exposed to launch conditions, thanks to much colder than normal weather in the launch area. Engineers for the company that had built the boosters raised this concern and recommended postponing the launch, but were overruled.

As illustrated, it appears that the ship is about to sail under the bridge, while the airship will fly over it, causing the tether between the two to snag the bridge unless the airship descends sufficiently before then. It is not clear how or if the reactor will contribute to the resulting incident.

Transcript[edit]

Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[An airship flying, labeled:]
Hydrogen-filled scout airship for iceberg spotting
[The airship is chained to a ship, going along a river, labeled:]
Unsinkable ocean liner
[In the background on the coast a nuclear power plant, labeled:]
Soviet-era nuclear reactor undergoing a turbine test
[The boat and airship are steering towards a bridge, labeled:]
Bridge prone to aeroelastic flutter in high winds
[Two unlabeled icebergs are on the water on either side of the bridge.]
[Caption below the panel:]
In retrospect, we should have noticed how nervous the situation was making the engineers.


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Discussion

For reference, the bridge in question is the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Trimeta (talk) 18:57, 24 June 2024 (UTC)

Noting that in all cases except the Tacoma Narrows, the design flaws were but a part of the issue, with operational decisions at the time playing a big part in the designed-in risks becoming reasons for an actual incident. The bridge could never have been "run safely", once built, unlike trying to ignore bunker fires whilst speeding through iceberg-alley or conducting stress tests in parallel with other non-standard procedures or just not refusing to conduct flights under certain weather conditions. Yes, the other things, by skipping the 'bad end' they actually had, would still be susceptible to future incidents (lessons not now having been properly learnt, or even known to be learnable, so still liable to being mishandled).
But the only thing that could have saved the Tacoma bridge was to have been so much more alert (and less 'amused') by Galloping Gerti and immediately rushed into developing the better analytical models that could lead to an expensive in-situ retrofit (as with the Millenium Bridge, across the Thames, though that didn't have unavoidable wind issues and could be managed 'at leisure', whilst being made safer). And, without the rather spectacular demonstration of failure, it was probably not on the cards to 'not do nothing', even if it wasn't already too late to avert history in any reasonable way.
It's human hubris/failings (at various levels) in each case, of course. But operational and design-time errors do more damage in combination than either by themselves. (Case in point, no deaths from the bridge collapse... actually handled pretty well, considering.) 172.70.162.186 22:00, 24 June 2024 (UTC)

And for the record, the Challenger engineers *did* warn about the O-ring risk, but were overridden by management. 172.68.35.95 19:25, 24 June 2024 (UTC)


It would have been so easy to draw a dam about to burst just behind the ocean liner 172.70.43.54 (talk) 20:22, 24 June 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Any particular dam-burst? There are many, but I'm not sure that we have an 'iconic' one... There's perhaps Taum Sauk, Vajont Dam, Brumadinho dam, El Cobre, Uttarakhand, Dale Dike Reservoir or Derna, picking a selection of notable ones. You couldn't count the deliberate Operation Chastise breaches or the (probably-)deliberate Kakhovka Dam one, nor all those 'nearly a disaster' ones (like Ulley and Toddbrook, two relatively recent concerns in the UK). 172.70.162.186 22:00, 24 June 2024 (UTC)
For whatever reason, the first thing that springs to my mind, is the flood scene from Team America World Police. ProphetZarquon (talk) 07:02, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
Johnstown Flood is what came to mind, caused by the South Fork Dam is the most iconic US one, and long enough ago to joke about relative to more recent, larger ones 162.158.159.140 16:52, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
Also a huge molasses tank would have been a good reference to one of the worst non-water floods https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_non-water_floods 172.70.43.140 17:07, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

Winds caused by maintenance on a nuclear reactor... What? 172.69.208.173 22:46, 24 June 2024 (UTC)

Yeah, this explanation text is reaching, hard. ProphetZarquon (talk) 07:00, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

Calling what leaked from the O-ring 'fuel' somewhat understates the issue. The O-ring failure let the SRB rocket exhaust itself burn through and damage the attachment strut and the external tank. Dkfenger (talk) 23:11, 24 June 2024 (UTC)

But, rocket fuel can't melt metal struts!  ;S ProphetZarquon (talk) 06:58, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
But it can get it hot enough that it then rips apart, causing other failures. SDSpivey (talk) 15:09, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
That was sarcasm, silly.  ;P ProphetZarquon (talk) 18:38, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

I can't help but think that the ship/bridge combination also refers to the Key Bridge collapse, given that MV Dali just left Baltimore today, passing through the wreckage of the Key Bridge and under a Chesapeake Bay Bridge temporarily closed to traffic. --172.71.222.92 03:01, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

Not shown: Ship electrical system with redundant buses, multiple breaker trips, and all bus ties closed. Not existent: Dolphins and breakers surrounding the piers of a fracture-critical bridge. 172.70.175.84 03:52, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
Nothing in the comic implies anything about the Key Bridge. Coincidence of timing, at best. SDSpivey (talk) 15:09, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

I feel like there's potential here, for a Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock kind of game, where each disaster can cause two others & prevent two others. ProphetZarquon (talk) 07:07, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

50 comics until 3000! youtu.be/miLcaqq2Zpk 04:06, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

In the section labeled "Hydrogen-filled [...] Airship [...]", should we remove the ellipses and show the entire label instead? Is there a good reason for not showing the full label? Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 15:02, 26 June 2024 (UTC)

I'm going to be bold and change this to the full label. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 15:08, 26 June 2024 (UTC)

I'm going to hazard a conjecture that the reactor kicked off the whole megadisaster when it exploded. The enormous blast from the explosion caused the bridge to collapse. It fell over on the airship and exploded it, and the ocean liner, without its trusty iceberg scout, sank (either on an iceberg or on one of the numerous pieces of wreckage from the bridge or airship). Feel free to use it if it seems plausible. 172.69.34.129 (talk) 20:46, 26 June 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Why doesn't this page have a "next" button at the top? Or is that only happenning for me? --172.70.162.186 09:31, 27 June 2024 (UTC)

It does for me. But note that the mechanism to give a Next button to every page except the very latest has been tardy in responding (or being cache-updated, I think was the issue) before. It's possible you saw it before the background whatever-needs-to-be-done was done, but it seems fixed now.
It's also a possibility that your local cache is(/was) being tardy (or even some intervening cloud-cache is 'ruining your day'), but if you can see your comment (and this reply) in the "Discussion" footer of the main comic page than I would say you certainly should be getting the updated page in every respect, including the Next-linking button to 2951.
If you find that it's still not the case then let us know. If you need to go to the Talk page to even see this, then perhaps we can also help suggest ways to get it moving. But it should still resolve soon enough, I imagine. 172.70.85.6 11:20, 27 June 2024 (UTC)

In the case of Galloping Gertie, a University of Washington Engineering prof predicted she would shake herself apart in a high wind (40mph is high in the Seattle area), and took his movie camera down to the strait during the next bad weather. That's why we have such a good movie of the event.

In the discussion of the Titanic's design, "contemporary" should be "contemporaneous" (one of my favorite nitpicks). 172.71.222.52 14:41, 27 June 2024 (UTC)