1438: Houston

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'Oh, hey Mom. No, nothing important, just at work.'
Title text: 'Oh, hey Mom. No, nothing important, just at work.'

[edit] Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Incomplete. Why is NASA unengaged in the issue? What is the relevance of prioritizing a call from mom over an exploding manned space ship? Why is the anachronistic monitor present: is NASA less responsive now?
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

NASA mission Apollo 13 was intended to be the third manned landing on the moon. On its way there, however, during a routine stirring of the hydrogen and oxygen tanks, an explosion occurred that damaged the craft. Frantic efforts by Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center (located in Houston) resulted in the safe return of all three astronauts to Earth. Immediately following the explosion, astronaut James A. Lovell calmly reported to Mission Control: "Houston, we've had a problem" - a notable understatement which was famously misquoted in the 1995 film adaptation of the mission as "Houston, we have a problem".

A similar situation is depicted in the this strip (including the design of the spacecraft, the nature of the problem and the famous misquote), except with much less help from Mission Control. Although it's not clear if Cueball is only one person at mission control, or if he is only one of many, but upon recieving the message from the spacecraft, he seems fairly indifferent. Instead of attempting to resolve the issue, he mocks the crew for not knowing how to stir. He then blows the crew off in favor of a call from his mother.

In reality, Mission Control worked diligently and tirelessly to solve numerous problems such as if and how to adjust the spacecraft's trajectory, how to have the astronauts jerry-rig CO2 removal equipment intended for the command module to work with the lunar module (to which the astronauts had evacuated) using just the equipment on board. and how to power equipment back up within strict limitations.

At first glance, this comic appears to be an "alternate reality" view at what could happen today, given technical customer service lines are notoriously un-helpful and/or staffed by people not well versed in the products they supposedly support. It is meant to contrast history with Cueball's (lack of) action. It leaves implicit the consequences of this inaction, for greater shock.

The modern type of monitor (flat panel LCD) in front of which Cueball sits suggests that the author is describing what would happen today. The comic can be read as a commentary about one's favorite objection to how the world has gotten worse:

  • NASA's quality issues in recent decades (and/or the funding cuts or direction shift contributing to same)
  • the perception view that millennials are less committed to work
  • the lack of national commitment to grand projects
  • the idea that we are "falling behind" in technical skills, causing Cueball to fail to recognize the seriousness of the problem
  • the objections by some to lack of governmental support for those in need
  • by others to the lack of individual commitment for the same

Similarly, it can be read as a parody of the idea that you are responsible for fixing your own problems, an old idea that is being used in many contentious contexts today.

In short, it seems a comic designed to provoke legitimate conversation and enjoyable whining.

[edit] Transcript

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Name for capsule? Also, descriptions need work.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.
[The mated Odyssey/Aquarius vehicles in space on their way to the moon with nearby debris in foreground, with the Earth in the background.]
Lovell: Houston, we have a problem
[Cueball sitting In front of two monitors wearing a headset.]
Cueball: Cool.
Lovell: ...What? Houston, we stirred our O2 tank and it exploded!
Cueball: Sounds like you suck at stirring.
[Capsule shown from a greater distance, with Earth beside it.]
Lovell: ...Houston? Are you-
Cueball: Listen, I've got another call.
Cueball: Good luck landing your airplane or whatever.
comment.png add a comment! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


I don't get the context here. Is this supposed to be a biting satire on how the new generation sucks at social tact with their cell phones? How is a guy at NASA mission control being an asshat supposed to be funny or thought-provoking? Even the helpdesk angle doesn't really make sense, as inept as they can be I've never had one outright antagonize me like this guy does.

A commentary on the nature of outsourced helpdesks, perhaps? Although, IME, the problems are more due to 'sticking to a script' (which would have given an entirely different exchange) rather than an unknowledgable and casually uninterested 'service'-person. 05:15, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I think this is the idea behind the comic too. Kind of like a "What if it had happened today?" It sure sounds like the kind of hotline support we get today. Deantwo (talk) 10:29, 24 October 2014 (UTC)
I agree. This is definitely comparison between the original mission control center and current outsourced helpdesk centers. Although it would be interesting to know what specific incident caused Randal to comment on it. -- Hkmaly (talk) 12:28, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

What is going on is this strip? Usually it's a reference to something or a commentary, but I don't get it at all. Cheeselover724 (talk) 05:32, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I think I figured out enough of it to remove the "incomplete" tag. This is definitely one of the weird ones. Shachar (talk) 06:02, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Reference to Continuum? (Canadian sci-fi show) 06:41, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Ebola? Really? Where is that..what? 09:34, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I agree, there is no evidence to back up the ebola reference. Djbrasier (talk) 09:36, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Also, I took it to refer to people being distracted on the phone in general (hence the title text) or generally not taking their jobs serious. Maybe the idea that for NASA, space travel has become so routine that mission control is no longer as engaged in the missions. Djbrasier (talk) 09:38, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Perhaps the guy answering the phone is called "Houston"? A misplaced Skype call from a rather shell shocked astronaut? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

But then it wouldn't make sense, that he says he's at work.-- 13:36, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

There are a LOT of anachronisms, or things that don't match the way things were back in the 1960's, not just the flat screens. (And I do still remember the sixties, despite "if you can remember the sixties, you wern't really there" - a reference to the drug scene.) We didn't say "cool" or "you suck at doing that" back then, and it's very unlikely that communications with the mission and a simple telephone call would be selectable from the same headset, and the michrophones on headsets were larger and probably had dangling wires back then. --RenniePet (talk) 13:22, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

It could be a commentary on privatizing space travel by NASA (among others to Boeing). Would explain, why Cueball knows it's a "airplane or whatever".-- 13:36, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

I understand it's a reference, but is this supposed to actually be the Apollo 13? I understood it was just another mission happening today. I find the anachronism explanation nonsensical. 13:57, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

"At first glance, this comic appears to be an "alternate reality" view at what could happen today, given that most people in the XXI century seem to suffer ADD." I don't think that we can assume this at all. Also, that's not what ADD is. Lomky (talk) 14:16, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Yeah. I think it's far more clear that Randall's commenting on unhelpful tech support than anyon'es short attention span. I've edited the explanation above. 15:34, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Did Randall have a bad experience with a call center operator? Condor70 (talk) 14:38, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Can someone explain why this is supposed to be funny? The explanation page doesn't quite get there.

Am i the only one interpreting Cueball as a script kiddie with too much spare time who somehow managed to hijack the communication line between Apollo 13 and Houston? The alt text is consistent with the basement dweller stereotype. Wouldn't explain the other call though. 17:22, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

Nasa just uploaded several audio recordings of their missions on soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/nasa). Maybe Cueball is just playing with those while he is at work. 17:31, 24 October 2014 (UTC)

"It's always 'problem, problem, problem' with you guys. Don't you ever call just to say 'hi'?"
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