Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Title text: To be fair, my job at NASA was working on robots and didn't actually involve any orbital mechanics. The small positive slope over that period is because it turns out that if you hang around at NASA, you get in a lot of conversations about space.
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Orbital mechanics can be somewhat counter-intuitive. The art of changing orbits involves relative velocities, positions and times in a complex interaction. As soon as you try to deviate from a perfectly regular orbit, or start having to deal with N-body problems and orbital resonances, you have to coordinate your movements in possibly counter-intuitive ways. It's no longer a matter of just pointing where you want to go (the events in the film Gravity, notwithstanding) and hoping for the best.
Here Randall roughly plots how High School Physics, undergraduate-level physics and (according the the title text) a rather osmotic learning process at work, whilst within NASA itself to undertake ostensibly unrelated work, somewhat increased his knowledge of the subject. But this learning (and some fading away of the learning, through non-use) was apparently of nothing compared to the 'direct' experience of playing with Kerbal Space Program, the sandbox rocket building and piloting game.
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- How Well I Understand Orbital Mechanics:
- [There is a graph with the X-axis labeled as 'time' increasing in the positive X. The Y-axis is unlabeled but it can be assumed that it could be labeled 'understanding'. The line stays flat until the first bump, which is annotated "Took High School Physics". The line decreases, then grows to a higher maximum with the annotation "Got Physics Degree". There is a small amount of decrease until a gradual bump in the graph labeled "Actual Job At NASA". It gradually decreases to pre-NASA levels, but then begins to increase exponentially. The annotation reads "Started Playing Kerbal Space Program".]
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