2461: 90's Kid Space Program

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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90's Kid Space Program
NASA may not want to admit it, but at this point they ARE the 90's Kid Space Program.
Title text: NASA may not want to admit it, but at this point they ARE the 90's Kid Space Program.


The "launch system" is just one of the rubber popper toys popular in the 1990s. These toys are little rubber hemispheres, about 1" (25 mm) in diameter and 1/8" (3 mm) thick. When turned inside-out and placed on a hard surface, they will, after a short wait, snap back to their original shape, popping up into the air. The joke is that kids who grew up with these toys will think they're a great idea to propel a space ship to orbit, when in fact the toys launch at mere tens of kilometers per hour, far short of the thousands needed to reach orbital speed[citation needed]. But now kids playing with these are those that make rockets, hence the title 90's Kid Space Program (KSP).

Even if the popper-based propulsion system could generate enough acceleration to reach orbit, the abrupt impulse would likely cause serious harm to any astronauts.

The title text implies that many working now at NASA were 90s kids. Both categories would include Randall, as he was born in 1984 and previously worked at NASA.

The title is a reference to the Kerbal Space Program (KSP) which has been a recurring theme on xkcd, and it has previously been hinted at that NASA's employees uses this program in 1244: Six Words and 2204: Ksp 2. And also that you learn more about orbital Mechanics by using KSP than from being hired by NASA in 1356: Orbital Mechanics.


[A command and service module representing the tip of a spacecraft, is attached by four long trusses to four equidistant points on the edge of a giant light green popper (a green "hill" with a round raised edge around it). The popper is in its inverted configuration, ready to pop. There is a caption beneath the panel:]
The 90's Kid Space Program prepares for their first orbital launch

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While searching for popper toys in action, I found a figure in a scientific paper. Not sure if it would belong on this page. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326439672_Dynamics_of_viscoelastic_snap-through#pf2 Pgn674 (talk) 20:15, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

Isn't it also allusion to Kerbal Space Program game? The ship in picture looks similar to game's stock crafts. -- 21:05, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

Possibly? The girders and the capsule look similar, but the green bit looks a little like a Project Orion pusher plate to me. (Or maybe I just like Project Orion too much). 21:07, 10 May 2021 (UTC)
Agree on the Kerbal. Note the KSP in "Kid Space Program". I also thought it had a nod towards Project Orion pusher plate. On an unrelated but fun note: Oxford science blog discusses the mathematics that describe jumping popper snap-through: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/science-blog/how-do-jumping-popper-toys-work.

Tomb (talk) 21:40, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

The title text may refer to the way that NASA seems stuck in their ways and not willing to innovate, i.e. living in the past. 21:13, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

Only they already tried most of the stuff and failed. e.g the DC-X or landing booster were tried in the 90s. For the boosters, it will be interesting if the reuse-reliability is better with our better controll systems, or the refurbishing costs and risks will kill it again. -- 16:29, 11 May 2021 (UTC)
I also interpreted the joke that way. Considering that Randall has done a joke about this in the past, I think that your interpretation is likely. (Then again, there was also a strip about 90's kids growing up...) --DoubleDenial (talk) 01:52, 12 May 2021 (UTC)
I felt the same way. From being cutting-edge in the 1960s and early 1970s, once the Congressional hatchet-men cut off funding for the shuttle program, NASA has seemingly focused exclusively on unmanned probes and rovers and allowed the manned space exploration programs to wither away to the point that they barely have a half-dozen operable space suits and have to use a space-going Über or Lyft like Russia's Soyuz or Elon Musk's SpaceX to even get someone to the ISS. RAGBRAIvet (talk) 06:29, 12 May 2021 (UTC)

I agree with the above suggestion that Kerbal Space Program is part of the joke, KSP is to iconic a acronym for Munroe to ignore, plus, he has mentioned it in other strips.

Or even "too iconic an acronym". 21:48, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

Is today some sort of special "90's day"? SMBC has a 90s-themed comic as well.Account (talk) 21:26, 10 May 2021 (UTC)

Per http://www.holidays-and-observances.com/may-10.html, it is not. Piano (talk) 22:22, 10 May 2021 (UTC)
I think maybe "90s" is a little off. I had one of these in 1987. 08:26, 11 May 2021 (UTC)

I was squinting hard at the original, trying to understand the connection between a diaphragm (a barrier contraception method), kids, and launching into space. Smth about spermatozoids? Resorted to explainxkcd, and learned that it's some kind of "popper"... Oh, well :)

Still better than when I thought "putting a parachute below the capsule can't possibly be aerodynamically stable". I thought it was a landing system.

Interesting… I'm a 90s kid, and I've never even heard of these. I had to come here to figure out what I was looking at. NoriMori (talk) 03:00, 11 May 2021 (UTC)

snap! I thought it was a diaphragm too :o) 06:05, 11 May 2021 (UTC)
I would have known what it was if it was a photograph. There's no real sense of scale or texture here, I thought it was some kind of weird parachute like kids used in gym class. - 06:25, 11 May 2021 (UTC)
Too funny. This 50's kid didn't think of popper or diaphragm. I thought it was a spoof on beanie propeller hats Beanie Propeller Hat Rtanenbaum (talk) 20:42, 11 May 2021 (UTC)
How effective would this thing actually be?

Obviously it's not going to go to space. But would a popper of this apparent size even be able to fling itself upward at all? Do the mechanics hold up when scaled up that large, or does all the mass and weight of the rubber get in the way? Or something about the physics of how it un-inverts itself? I've seen a few of these things, and they get some impressive height, but they were all pretty small. I found a Youtube video of a guy making some quite large ones (by toy standards), and the amount of height they get seems to go down as the size of the thing goes up.

This isn't the clearest xkcd - So it isn't supposed to be a diaphragm? 06:51, 11 May 2021 (UTC)

Depends? I've seen 3 inch models that pop higher than 1 inch models. I also think the old school solid ones pop higher than the 'safety' version you get now with a hole in the top. Side note: kids like me are why they have those safety holes now. For gits and shiggles in the summer of '86 I placed one of them on my forehead, and pushed in. It made a mighty suction cup, and took the better part of a minute to get off my face. As you might expect, a solid minute of extreme suction on my skin created the expectant 'hickey' and I had a 3 inch round dot on my forehead for about a week. 16:14, 11 May 2021 (UTC)

Actually this wouldn't work at all at the drawn scale. - At least not with rubbers we know currently. To have enough "strength" against punctures etc on this scale the rubber would have to be really really thick. However another feature is that it bends from bulbing one side to the other side - releasing build up tensile stress inside the rubber dome material. The problem is however that in doing so the 'length' of one side of the rubber would change drastically (this is what creates the stress anyways). Magnitudes more than the few mm you have in normal domes. It would have so much strain that any rubber we know would've ripped/cracked many times before, even the most plastine rubbers would rip before that point. So no this would not scale up very well... Would actually be better to use "a lot of small sized ones". than a single large one.

Now I understand why xkcd has a tendency to occasionally irk me- because he's a 90's kid. Us 80's kids used real gunpowder to send our rockets a few thousand feet high. Ok, less than 2000, but at least we didn't use a rubber thing resembling a boob. And get off my lawn, you young whipper snapper.Seebert (talk) 13:04, 11 May 2021 (UTC)

Maybe I'm reading too much in to it, but it looks a bit like an Orion type spacecraft with the pusher plate drawn to specifically resemble those pop toys?

I'm surprised no one has commented on the similarity in design to the James Webb Telescope, which opened for the last time today on earth in preparation for satellite packing: https://twitter.com/NASA/status/1392170711226126344?s=19 20:10, 11 May 2021 (UTC)