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NASA's Successful Quantifying of Comedy Timing (By Penn Jillette and Teller) (symftr.tumblr.com)
230 points by wallflower on July 22, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 31 comments

I'll always regret not seeing a shuttle launch. I went once and it was cancelled due to poor weather.

Hopefully NASA will replace it with something equally spectacular, or perhaps I'll just have to wait and enjoy a private launch (from on-board).

There's something unquantifiable about the shuttle, though.

Downvote me for this, because it's offtopic, and silly, but seeing the shuttle perched up there with those huge tanks of fuel strapped to it's chest reminds me of my dog when I come home from work.

She just looks excited. The rockets don't. They don't have as much personality.

Every time I see the shuttle, it looks like it's happy, and it's excited to be going to space. The rockets just look like hammers.

Actually, it kindof does look like a dog's nose: http://www.enstoneflyingclubblog.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/20...

I was on the checkout page to book a flight for the last launch, then ultimately decided not to. I'd been wanting to see a Shuttle launch since I was a kid, but I realized we're going to have a lot more launches. Sure they won't be shuttles, but I'll be able to look at that launch and say "That's the rocket that is taking people to Mars." Not "That's the rocket that is going to take a shipment of astronaut ice cream up to the IIS and bring back bags of space poop for disposal."

And when you look at the Ares V rocket. OMG, watching that take off is going to be sick!

Size comparison: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_A7wB2gcr8lA/TAU3evWPPSI/AAAAAAAAIE...

So don't be too bummed, you'll be able to see lots of great launches in your lifetime.

"However, the Constellation program, including Ares V was canceled in October 2010 by the passage of the 2010 NASA authorization bill."

I went once; my grandfather had gotten VIP passes. It was January 1986.

If 'January 1986' is meant to refer to Challenger, keep in mind that Columbia was launched Jan 12 1986[1], and Challenger was launched Jan 28, 1986[2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-61-C

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-51-L

NASA's current planned Shuttle replacement is derived from the Shuttle and has the same basic configuration apart from the orbiter, plus it's bigger. So I'm pretty hopeful...


Living in Florida, I've been fortunate enough to see a few shuttle launches, as well as various rockets. The sound is really an incredible thing. I watched the last one from the bridge stretching from Titusville to the Kennedy Space Center, about the closest one can get without needing a pass. At that distance, the sound takes around 30 seconds to reach the viewers and it's not even that loud, but you can feel the power behind it.

Even more impressive, I watched STS-131 from my hometown one morning. Even from the West Coast of Florida, I could hear the unique sound and power from the shuttle.

I drove around 400 miles round trip to see the last Shuttle Launch, but it was completely worth it to see, in person, humans going into space. If every member of Congress could experience that at least once, NASA would likely not have any more funding problems.

I'm jealous. For the last three years, living in Daytona, I've vowed I would drop everything to see the very last launch. And then they extended the program, and the launch was in the summer while I was out of state.

My plan for the last one was to go to Daytona since I figured the traffic would be horrible in Titusville and the Shuttle takes off to the north anyway. I ended up driving South until I hit traffic, which happened to be extremely close to the launch. I live out of state most of the year, so I was happy to hear the last launch would be during the Summer.

Though it wouldn't have worked well on the last launch due to the clouds, I'm sure there's other launches you could have seen from Daytona.

Another anecdote: The first launch I saw when I was a little kid, probably seven years old. I was riding in the back seat of my mom's car and happened to look out the back window. When I looked back, I saw the a fireball rising into the sky, which of course was the shuttle.

Also, about two years ago, I was driving home with my girlfriend one night and we saw a star which seemed to be moving higher into the sky. Suddenly, it disappeared. I couldn't find any mention of rocket launches until, after extensive searching, it turned out to be a secret CIA satellite.

After years putting it off I finally drove up in the wee hours from Miami for the last launch and caught it on the same bridge (Max Brewer Bridge) mentioned earlier. Small world! It only took 3 hours to make it up which just led me to regret not making more trips up for it. It was truly spectacular, and the nerd in me nearly jumped out of my skin!

Cloud cover permitting, all launches were visible from the Embry-Riddle Aero. Univ. campus in Daytona, as well as other rocket launches. If the winds blew in the right direction you still heard a decent roar, as well.

As the last Space Shuttle flight flew, I remembered this essay as well. I never saw a launch live, unfortunately. But 14 years later, this writing has stuck with me. Others have also written about the experience, but none (that I've seen) is quite as vivid. Unsolicited but related trivia: in Jay Barbree's "Live from Cape Canaveral", he mentions that the SS blast offs were more impressive than the Saturn V, which I found surprising, since the Saturn V could lift more.

Those booster rockets on the shuttle were ridiculous. The Saturns were before my time, but I've seen some Delta launches, and an Ares launch, and the shuttle put them TO SHAME.

One thing I will remember most about going to college near KSC will be watching shuttle launches. I don't think there is anything on this world that is more impressive than putting our people into space on a pillar of fire.

I recall a family vacation when I was younger, driving down the Florida coast; my dad screaming (not a bad scream, but a hurried, excited, educated scream). He kept asking my brother and I in the back seat if we wanted to see the astronauts go into space. Circa 12 years old, you fucking bet we did. We tried to find a good spot, but unfortunately, weren't able to (the launch was also cancelled that day for a reason I can't remember).

I'm fairly happy to know that my parents tried to show this to my brother and I. After reading this account, I can say that at some point in my life, I'd like to see humans going into space.

It may be cheesy, but this just set a wonderful tone for my weekend.

Thanks for sharing. Despite being a P&T fan for years I had never read that before.

I think government needs to use tax money for “police, courts, and defense” and that’s it. If I were king of the world, there wouldn’t be a king of the world and NASA would be private. But who cares what I think? We have NASA and they do the coolest things. It can’t be justified with Tang and Crazy Glue. Exploration of space is worth it because humans need to explore.

Cognitive dissonance much?

I was thinking the same thing. To help him out NASA could be called defense spendings (alien invasion ;p) and there is also DARPA the two most useful agencies I know off both had an impact on space exploration.

I just went to see P&T a few days ago. Always loved their show and their insight as it definitely makes me think.

For a while, I considered myself a Libertarian, but there were too many conflicts with my own sensibilities (gun control, regulation, etc). I just couldn't ignore the obvious lapse in judgement to make the Libertarian model work.

I still respect P&T, but after listening to Penn rant about de-regulation of markets (Libertarian viewpoint), then seeing it happen (and fall apart), I couldn't continue the one-size-fits-all thought process.

Penn became more quiet about the subject than his tight-lipped partner, Teller. Cognitive dissonance indeed.

Not really. You might think something isn't right to do, but, after the fact if it's done, think it's really really cool that it got done.

I took my two boys to a launch because I knew the end was near. STS-125 the first and last time two shuttles were prepped to launch at the same time: Hubble makes the ISS unreachable if a problem occurs. (The second shuttle was the rescue plan since they couldn't get to the reentry vehicle parked at the ISS.)

Yes, I cried like a little girl.

Good times.

TIL about STS-400. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-400

Seeing the Shuttles next to one another is pretty awesome. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Space_shuttles_Atlantis_%2...

I took my 5 year old daughter to STS-132. Tried to get tickets to it on the website and failed to ever get in. Bought 2 tickets for the closest (non-VIP) public viewing area with no parking and 2 tickets + parking for the second closest off eBay. Ended up getting to invite my Dad and his cousin to view from there. It takes a patient 5 year old to get through a hot day and wait hours to watch a 5 minute event. She made it though without even much fuss. Thankfully, it went off just 30 minutes late due to a screw they found rolling around in the cargo bay. When it finally did launch, she was ecstatic and loudly proclaimed: "It is building a pile of steam!" http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=32354567%40N00&q=sts&...

The magnitude of experience pales in comparison to the shuttle launch, but I've always been glad I got to see the X-Prize winning SpaceShipOne launch.

If Florida were closer than Mojave, I'd have loved to see the shuttle, too.

I was able to see two shuttle launches at KSC: a night launch and John Glenn's return to space. The comedic timing also works from the non-VIP viewing area there. Just as you're starting to furrow your brow and wonder if some acoustical law hasn't been violated, you hear/feel this rumbling that starts low and quickly builds to an extended crackling locomotive of noise. It's impossible not to get giddy about it.

I've seen Penn & Teller live. Fucking great. Really amazing. I was a huge fan. Even bought their first book.

Then they came out as anthropocentric climate change deniers. Plus, their cable show "Bullshit" was little more than Leno's Jaywalking, only meaner.

So I had to flip the bozo bit on them. Meaning I've lumped them in with the neocons, creationists, libertarians, homophobes, 9/11 truthers, and other antisocial fruitcakes.


"The NASA definition of comedy timing is the difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound over a distance of 3.7 miles. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second (I knew that off the top of my head). The speed of sound is 1,116 feet per second (I had to look that up). With the two traveling over 3.7 miles that’s 17.505 seconds."

"we call it 'the aristocrats'!"

See...doesn't have the same impact when you just tell the punch line.

The piece which was tl;dr for you was one of the most uplifting and inspiring stories I've ever read about watching a Shuttle launch, and you want distil it down to a punch line? Talk about missing the point!

While I wholly agree with you and respect this point, I actually laughed out loud at your opening line; sometimes if you know the joke already, it's hilarious when the punchline is used to drive home a point.

>"we call it 'the aristocrats'!"

thanks man. Couldn't read more than the 1/3 of the blog - it's just too boring. After your post, googled 'the aristocrats' [and enjoyed it] - you hit it right on the nail. Best tldr ever.

The point of the piece is the "too long" part.

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