1456: On the Moon

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On the Moon
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on Venus and returning him safely to--" [an aide frantically whispers in the president's ear for a moment] "... of landing a man on Venus."
Title text: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on Venus and returning him safely to--" [an aide frantically whispers in the president's ear for a moment] "... of landing a man on Venus."


The phrase "If we can land a man on the Moon, why can't we <blank>" is commonly used to question a perceived shortcoming of government, society or humanity in general. The Apollo program landed twelve astronauts on the Moon in six landing missions from July 1969 to December 1972 and returned all of those twelve astronauts safely to the Earth. However, from 1964 to 1967, there were eight deaths of astronauts or men training to be astronauts: three in the Apollo One fire, four in T-38 crashes, and one in an F-104 crash. The premise is usually that if "we" (whether referring generally to humanity, or specifically to the United States) have been able to achieve this extraordinary feat, our inability to achieve some lesser goal is questionable and/or ironic. Right after the Philae landing, the similar hashtag #WeCanLandOnACometButWeCant began on Twitter.

Here, Megan cuts Cueball's argument's short by implicitly reminding him that humanity has not put another human on the Moon since the end of the Apollo program in December 1972 (nearly 42 years at the time this comic was published). New manned programs to return to the Moon, such as the Constellation Program, have been repeatedly cancelled. The Orion spacecraft, which will be capable of carrying humans beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in over 40 years, executed its first test flight on the day after this comic was published. However, this is outdated, as NASA is planning to go to the moon again with the Artemis Program. The launch date of when Artemis 3, the mission where humans will return, is planned to be some time in 2025, when this comic would be around eleven years old.

The title text is a retelling of John F. Kennedy's famous inspirational address to the U.S. Congress in May 1961 ("I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth"), which set into motion the Apollo program, except that this time, the speaker is talking about putting a man on planet Venus. The aide presumably explains to the president that, unlike Moon, Venus has gravity close to that of the Earth, but what's more, its surface atmosphere density and pressure, and other factors including high temperature, strong winds and sulfuric acid clouds would make manned launch back to orbit practically impossible at our current technological level. As a result, the president backtracks from the goal of returning the astronauts safely to the Earth and comically limits the aspiration to landing an astronaut on Venus, full stop, without regard to the astronaut's safe return. This differs slightly from Kennedy's goal, which included the safe return of at least one astronaut from the moon. Although the overall 8:12 ratio of deaths to moonwalkers (during the period for Kennedy's speech to the end of the Apollo program) was too high to be considered "safe" by most standards, Kennedy had specified the safety only of the men who landed on the moon, and set a goal of "a" man returning safely. Technically, even if most of the men who landed died, as long as one returned safely by the end of 1969, Kennedy's goal would have been met.

Kennedy's 1961 speech was also mentioned in the title text of 753: Southern Half.


[Cueball and Megan are walking together heading right.]
Cueball: If we could land a man on the Moon, why can't we-
Megan: -land a man on the Moon?
Cueball: ...ok, fair. But we're working on it, OK?

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I don't see why the transcript is incomplete, it looks pretty complete and all there to me... Official.xian (talk) 14:45, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

Agreed, removed incomplete tag. --Pudder (talk) 14:49, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

I wondered if the cartoon is about sex discrimination. After all, when people went to the moon, nobody even considered (as far as I know) letting a woman go on an Apollo flight. Megan might be saying "Land a man on the moon?" Or she might be tired of Cueball saying this and be obliquely suggesting NASA send him there on a one-way trip! Gade (talk) 15:25, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

No, that only means that you are blinded by the alienation caused by the noxious media sites you visit. This strip is clearly about doing a 'real' manned moonlanding instead of that fake hollywood footage from 1969 that doesn't look anything like the photos taken last year from the chinese lander. --Loon (talk) 18:49, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

Appropriate handle, considering that half-baked claims that the moon landings were faked have been debunked so many times over the past forty years.  In fact, XKCD #1441 (Turnabout) only works *because* we landed on the moon. 00:31, 6 December 2014 (UTC)
That was my initial interpretation. As for the debunking, the day you can explain away the photographs which are obvious fakes, i'll start to consider believing the rest of what they had to say. If you lie about one thing, why should anything else you say on the subject be believed? We've still been there now, and anyway, it had nothing to do with this, and all to do with the description above about the ironic statement. Badwolf (talk) 12:49, 16 December 2014 (UTC)

Is there a reference for the claim "Unmanned hardened pre-cooled robotic probes either got crushed or fried before landing, or survived only a couple of hours at most."? Djbrasier (talk) 16:07, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

Yes. The Venera probes. Citation provided. --Equinox 17:18, 5 December 2014 (UTC)
(Well, you got me an edit conflict, after checking, editing and reviewing,but here's what I wrote.)
That's not the way I would phrase that claim, but it sounds like it's Venera 9 and its similar successors being talked about, with the "pre-cooling".
A brief check of a book I have (no, I've never heard of The Internet) suggests that the complete list of landers that actually got to Venus are as follows:
Venera 3 (descent probe, probably crashed, communications failed before approach)
Venera 4 (descent probe, ran out of power before destroyed in the atmosphere)
Venera 5 (descent probe, may have crushed at late stage of descent while still powered)
Venera 6 (descent probe, as V5)
Venera 7 (23 minutes of faint recordings from surface, probably landed on side after rough landing)
Venera 8 (50 minutes on surface before going silent)
Venera 9 (53 minutes, before radio contact with orbiter lost and not regained)
Venera 10 (can't find timing details)
Venera 11 (95 minutes, before contact with orbiter lost)
Venera 12 (110 minutes)
Venera 13 (a confirmed 127 minutes)
Venera 14 (57 minutes, ditto; managed to "measure its own lens-cap" in the intended soil-compressibility experiment!)
Vega 1 (no time information for Venus Lander component
Vega 2 (56 minutes for on surface for Venus Lander component)
Pioneer (an hour, for one of three landers on the mission)
Knowing the surface environment (temperature and pressure) and the design specs it can be assumed that Venera 13's confirmed 127 minutes of operation is near the top-end of functionality and that those that merely went out of range would have had not much more survival time. Although by the time of the final Veneras the expected survival time was only 30 minutes, and yet they may have lasted at least twice as long, so who knows... (Also note the possible usage of "a couple of hours" in relation to 1070.) 17:48, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

That looks like an XKCD comic in and of itself. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Man, for a minute I thought the second 'MAN' refers to a truck from the car company MAN. They are rather heavy. 5 December 2014 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I thought "land" was a euphemism. Read it again and tell me what you think. 03:26, 6 December 2014 (UTC)OctopodesC

Seems like "still lack a coherent vision" is a bit too editorial, especially given the launch and return of the Orion capsule. "Coherent vision" or its lack might be in the eye of the beholder... Taibhse (talk) 11:46, 6 December 2014 (UTC)

Aide explanation

The "no return" part instantly reminded me of Mars One, a project to land people on Mars and never return them back on Earth. The most prominent reason for the impossibility of return are (1) the amount of fuel that has to be carried to Mars to be able make it back is insane (Tsiolkovsky's equation). -- Shnatsel (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

"we" vs "we"

When I read the comic, I thought the joke here was that 'we' (humanity) can place a man on the moon, but we (Cueball et al.) can't; to which Cueball responds that they're working on it. 22:06, 6 December 2014 (UTC)

The explanation gives an 8:12 ratio for moonwalkers, however, weren't there other astronauts that didn't land on the moon, but also didn't die? I thought the overall rate of deaths was around 5% (just looked it up, top link has 7.5% http://www.penmachine.com/2003/02/is-being-astronaut-most-dangerous-job.html), so 8:12 is cherry-picking, right? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Going into low-earth orbit and going to the moon are to very different ball games. I think the distinction is fair. 02:37, 8 December 2014 (UTC)

I assumed Megan was preemting Cueball from making a logical fallacy (a bad analogy a.k.a. [Appeal to the moon]), by suggesting the only thing that logically follows: that it's possible to land a man on the moon. --Strindhaug (talk) 10:29, 7 December 2014 (UTC)

T-38 and F-104 crashes are immaterial. "8
12" ratio is invalid.

There's a major apples vs. oranges comparison being made here.

You're really lumping the risk of pointy-nosed-airplane flying in with the risk of flying on moon-landing missions (while you're missing info on the number pointy-nosed-airplane flights, the number of people who flew them, etc.).

Flying an airplane is an ordinary activity, especially for those selected as astronauts. Those in the pool of people who are candidates for astronaut, would, if not selected, otherwise still be flying pointy-nosed-airplanes, likely in war (Vietnam), and likely with a greater chance of crashing (being shot down).

Oh! There's so much wrong with that "8:12" comparison. I'd like to go into it more, but there's not enough time. I think you-all get the idea though.

See the #1453 for commentary on bad methodologies. This "8:12" malarkey is a perfect example. 17:51, 5 March 2015 (UTC)