2107: Launch Risk

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 18:53, 4 February 2019 by (talk) (Undo revision 169052 by (talk))
Jump to: navigation, search
Launch Risk
Don't worry--you're less likely to die from a space launch than from a shark attack. The survival rate is pretty high for both!
Title text: Don't worry--you're less likely to die from a space launch than from a shark attack. The survival rate is pretty high for both!


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by an ASTRONAUT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic deals with statistics based on a large population, such as all Americans, when the people in question are in a smaller group with vastly different statistics, such as astronauts.

In a capsule about to be launched into space, one astronaut asks another how they are feeling. The second one admits to feeling nervous. The first one offers the supposedly reassuring observation that they are more likely to be struck by lightning than to be selected as an astronaut. Such "more likely to be struck by lightning" comparisons are commonly used to illustrate that a particular risk is very remote, and thus should not be considered particularly frightening.

The second one agrees with the first one for a moment, but then realizes that something is wrong with the argument. Presumably, they realize that the likelihood of being selected as an astronaut is a moot point -- they are there because they already have been selected as an astronaut. The relevant concern is the risk level faced by an astronaut, given that they already hold that position. Unfortunately, the historical record shows that this risk is somewhat high, certainly far above the minuscule risk of being struck by lightning.

The lifetime odds of being struck by lightning are approximately 1 in 14,600. How Dangerous is Lightning?

The title text refers to another common comparison, the risk of a shark attack. In addition to shark attacks being rather rare, they are also not as likely to kill the victim as is commonly assumed. Most people attacked by sharks, and most people launched into space, live through the experience; however, it remains true that both are considerably riskier than many if not most common activities.[citation needed]

A tall rocket, such as depicted would be more likely to be struck by lightning than nearby structures. However launch controllers monitor weather carefully to reduce the chances of attempting to launch when lightning is likely.

A space craft launch can trigger lightning, by creating a conductive path through charge bearing clouds, which would normally not produce lightning. Apollo 12 was struck by triggered lightning twice during launch phase, resulting in the entire operational platform shutting down from overload. Backup systems allowed the flight to proceed. NASA: Lightning and Launches


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A rocket is about to launch.]
Astronaut 1: How you feeling?
Astronaut 2: Honestly, pretty nervous.
Astronaut 1: I know it seems dangerous, but just remember: you're more likely to be struck by lightning than to be selected to become an astronaut.
Astronaut 2: Oh that's a good-
Astronaut 2: ...Wait.
Countdown: T-Minus 20...19...

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


Gave a short explanation, but I think it would be good to mention probability based logical fallacies and https://what-if.xkcd.com/55/. Don’t know how to link without it looking bad. This is my first page! Netherin5 (talk) 17:28, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

Revised to a more extensive explanation including the fallacy that the second astronaut apparently realizes in mid-reply. SteveMB (talk)

What are the odds that one or both astronauts are female? I see "he" being used to refer to the second astronaut, but we don't actually know the sex of either one. 17:56, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

Fixed 18:07, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

This seems wrong, at least with the lightning explanation. I believe the joke is that since he already is an astronaut, being hit by lightning doesn’t seem unlikely. Netherin5 (talk) 18:03, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

Would be nice to add something about risk perception of common vs. uncommon and dramatic vs. more mundane seeming events. e.g. in US, lifetime chance of death from flu, 1 in 63; from automobile accident 1 in 84; from lightning 1 in 79,746; from shark attack, 1 in 3,748,067 https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/shark-attacks/odds/compare-risk/death/ 18:52, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

I find it strange that 1 in 63 citizens die from flu, while 1 in 84 die in auto accidents. Those sound like old numbers to me.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 22:44, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

The risk to be killed as an astronaut should be add somewhere (it is easy to find number of death/total number of astronaut) if someone want to make the morbid calculation. Xavier Combelle (talk) 18:55, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

From some impatient Googling and Wikipedia scanning there have been just over 360 people in space and 18 deaths (excepting training including Apollo 1). That puts the death rate at just over 3%.

These were mostly Shuttle as the crews were larger. However,the title is Launch Risk, so the figure would be less than half that, but still about 1.5%. Furthermore, if you ignore the Space Planes the Launch Risk is probably very low. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 19:07, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

Many of those 360 have been in space multiple times reducing the risk further. Sebastian -- 07:30, 6 February 2019 (UTC)

We should get a better source for the lightning info: The current citation is confirmed[citation needed] as a biased source[citation needed] owned and controlled by socialist Jews[citation needed]. 19:10, 4 February 2019 (UTC)

I would like to hear some statistics on lightning-related death rates, as compiled by anarchist Buddhists.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 22:44, 4 February 2019 (UTC)
Sorry, I've never compiled those statistics. Otherwise I fit your requirements, though. 08:33, 6 February 2019 (UTC)
The statistics compiled by followers of Zeus would be even more interesting. 09:55, 6 February 2019 (UTC)

I'd say that part of the joke was the phrasing. The astronaut's friend said "You're more likely to be struck by lightning than selected as an astronaut," which isn't very reassuring; if the friend had said "You're more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than to die in spaceflight," it might have been a consolation (albeit a fallacious one).

Removed the shark death rate statistic, since it was 1) not typical, 2) not comparable to the other statistics in the paragraph. The statistic given was the percent of shark attacks that are fatal. It used reporting from one beach in Brazil, noted for having particularly high death rate statistics [1]. The other rates listed are lifetime chance of death from particular cause - a totally different statistic.

The rocket closly resembels Soyuz. Might be this comic releted to recent Soyuz launch accident? If it is so, the one who is trolling is russian cosmonaut. And it also meeans some meta-trolling.

It could be a Soyuz, thought it looks like the conical part just below the escape tower has windows. Soyuz has just a closed fairing. 11:38, 5 February 2019 (UTC)
Nah, the booster shape is completely wrong. I think it might be Gaganyaan / GSLV-III. -- 08:01, 6 February 2019 (UTC)

Launch pads usually have lightning protection systems, as a lightning strike on an assembled rocket would be bad news. See https://ams.confex.com/ams/pdfpapers/38831.pdf for example