2876: Range Safety

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Range Safety
The Range Mischief Officer has modified the trajectory to add a single random spin somewhere in the flight, but won't tell us where.
Title text: The Range Mischief Officer has modified the trajectory to add a single random spin somewhere in the flight, but won't tell us where.


A Range Safety Officer is responsible for ensuring the safety of the flight of a missile or launch vehicle – such as the rocket in the comic. This involves tasks like creating a launch corridor clear of any aircraft or ships, as well as ensuring that atmospheric conditions are favorable for a launch.

In this comic, the RSO has noticed reports of thunderstorms downrange, and has ordered a hold as conditions are no longer favorable.

Randall continues on by imagining the opposite position, a "Range Danger Officer," responsible for ensuring that the flight of the vehicle is dangerous. Flying into the biggest thunderstorm may qualify as dangerous - in 1987 an ATLAS rocket launched into thunderstorm conditions by NASA was destroyed by lightning strikes that caused electrical malfunction.

Finally, someone on the staff justifiably[citation needed] wonders what reason there is for that position to exist.

The title text imagines a Range Mischief Officer, responsible for mischief – generally defined as minor/playful annoyance. Introducing a random unknown spin may qualify, since the spin shouldn't affect the flight too much, but would make all the flight engineers nervous about the flight as they seek to understand why telemetry is inverted (or why it is not!), as they work out the cause and whether it is symptomatic of bigger underlying issues or just a technical change of reference to an otherwise correct flight trajectory. Whether the spin is purely axial or end-over-end would probably matter greatly!

The Range Danger Officer and Range Mischief Officer both sound like suitable positions for Black Hat, xkcd's resident classhole.

This is the second holiday season comic in 3 years to depict rocket safety officers. A Range Safety Officer was also mentioned in the title text of 2559: December 25th Launch, where the RSO shoots down Santa so he cannot interfere with the rocket launch.


[A rocket is on a launchpad with a tower next to it as seen from far away. There are two birds flying to the right of them and one bird flying to the left of them. To the left of the launchpad there is a very small building. Much farther to the right there are two smaller buildings, and a voice is emanating from the largest and right most building which also has two antennas on top. The scene is shown in black silhouette on a white background.]
Voice: There are reports of thunderstorms in the downrange area.
[Same scene, except there are now only two visible birds, both flying on the left side of the rocket.]
Voice: The Range Safety Officer has ordered a launch hold.
[Almost same scene, but panned to the right so the smallest building to the left is not shown and a third building to the right of the other two buildings can be seen. Birds are now flying with one on either side of the rocket. Two voices are now emanating from the middle building.]
Voice: But the Range Danger Officer wants to launch the rocket toward the biggest thunderstorm.
Voice 2: Okay, why do we even have that position?


  • The standard size image was uploaded with a resolution/size larger than the supposed 2x version.
    • This may have been an error.
  • The tower next to the rocket was also missing from panel 2.
    • See the original version here
  • Both these errors were later corrected.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


The 'standard' and '2x' sized images had unexpected sizes, so a Trivia section has been automatically generated, and an imagesize parameter has been added (at half size) to render the image consistently with other comics on this website. --TheusafBOT (talk) 14:54, 3 January 2024 (UTC)

Okay, so, today we learned modern xkcd comics are drawn entirely with the pencil tool, with the brush size for the text averaging 22 pixels, and then downscaled to 1/15th of the size before final publication. 15:01, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
The text is a font...
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:03, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
"...is a font..." https://github.com/ipython/xkcd-font PRR (talk) 20:23, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
No, I think you missed the context from that page. It states that "xkcd-font is a font derived from Randall's handwriting...", not that the text placed in the comic drawings is rendered with a font. If you study the comics text, there are brush stroke variations between different instances of the same character, e.g. in this day's comic it is noticeable in "T" and "R" --Jarvik (talk) 12:08, 4 January 2024 (UTC)
Could we STOP getting Trivia items stating "image was uploaded with a resolution/size larger than the supposed 2x version"? If nobody is willing to save the evidence, I assume it's a lie and should be removed from the Trivia. Note how the very next item claims the tower was missing THEN OFFERS A LINK TO THAT VERSION! That's how to treat such anomalies, to save it in case Randall fixes it! I haven't seen a single large comic which was claimed to be large. Pics or it didn't happen, come on! NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:32, 6 January 2024 (UTC)
That's maybe theusafBOT's next update, then. Whenever identifying the disparity, upload the _2x to present rescaled according to (nominal) normal-sizing, but the normal-size one that is detected as abnormal can then be uploaded (as 'secondary' resource, on link-only rather than img-embed) with something like an _outsized distinction. Or similar.
We are, of course, talking of a dumb-bot which won't always be able to make rational exceptional decisions but must work according to the rules its owner has given it. At one point I think it would dumbly break the site by using wrong-sized double (from the supposed smaller non-double), before that it broke the site by not giving 5he double the (normally) normal-sizinv, and either this bot or predecessors tended to break over strange setups (placeholders behind dynamic comics) that may well be an easily detected/handled situation these days. But not much use trying to blame this on people (who can be dumb in different ways, admittedly) not realising that they should have recorded this fully. It was an automated process that is lucky to have recorded anything about it (as well as not caused problems through not being adaptable enough). 12:43, 6 January 2024 (UTC)
I'm aware it's a bot, "bot" is in the name/label/identification. :) This complaint is directed at the person who programmed the bot, to point out to them that they got it the wrong way around (just that I dunno who that is). Basically, my effort to get it INTO the next update. While the 2x is current I doubt anybody is concerned about seeing the regular size, it's easy enough to zoom out. Recording this is mostly just a curiosity, a vaguely interesting fact. And once Randall fixes it - as it seems like he always does, pretty fast since I've never seen one - saving the 2x would then be the only way to see it, and people can just see the normal size on the original site. That is to say, this link serves exactly zero purpose now, nobody needs it. If they like they could save both, if they still think there's a reason, then the 1x line could be removed when it becomes useless like this, but efficiency would suggest not to bother. I've made this complaint several times since the bot started doing this, you're the first reply I've seen, and it's been at least a month, maybe more (this is NOT nearly important enough to stand out in my mind for me to recall, LOL!). I'm a programmer myself, I know it should be as simple as changing "Find and save the 1x" to "Find and save the 2x" (and changing the Trivia link text accordingly). Saving the 1x could theoretically be harder, while the 2x is on display and more accessible. Just that the OTHER error to correct makes this an excellent comic to demonstrate the right and wrong way to do it. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:16, 20 January 2024 (UTC)

Why is the tower missing in the second panel?

If the other buildings weren't in the same place, and the tower weren't back in panel 3, I'd have guessed that the rocket was moved back to the VAB to wait for the next launch window. Maybe this was more activity of the Range Mischief Officer? Barmar (talk) 17:05, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
Seems to be back. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 19:54, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
It was just an optical illusion - haze from the launch site causing tricks of the light. As is the fact that the various protuberances from the tower appear to change from panel to panel. 11:53, 4 January 2024 (UTC)

Is it worth adding a guess of what kind of rocket it is to the explanation? The phallic design seems like one of Blue Origin's. Barmar (talk) 17:06, 3 January 2024 (UTC)

The thin "neck" makes it look like somewhat like a Long March 4 when carrying a large fairing, but it's a bit exaggerated in how much thicker the lower stages are. The ratio looks more like a Vega-C, but then the neck is way too short. 17:37, 3 January 2024 (UTC)
Hard to tell, in silouhette. Often a two(-or-more)-side-booster configuation is used to increase the payload capabilities for a normally 'straight-up' main stack. And the reason why the stack needs boosting may be the increased weight (and/or fairing-size) of the extra-large payload section.
The fins off the base of the broad 'body' are typical parts of add-on-boosters (which may have various top ends, some matching the 'shoulders' as seen) to aid with both the assisted phases of the launch (keeping the stack trimmed without excessive gimballing of the engines equipped to gimbal) and to ensure their eventual ejection is safe (adds a further force to ensure the expelled boosters consistently tumble safely away from the still-ascending, maybe boosting, central stack). There's not enough pixels to be sure if it's a typical Russian/European booster-profile (if it's an Arianne, sheer length make it closer to Arianne 5 (typical 2-booster stacking) to either Arianne 4 (A42P/44LPA/44P/etc) or 6 (A62/A64), though it's borderline even for a 5G/G+, and Proton-M has 'very low shoulders' too), and so many 'private' vehicles exist that I wouldn't want to check them all just for this. Not a Falcon 9 variant, however.
The outsized header-fairing tends to happen for large loads that don't need a broad stack (JWST needed no comparatively huge head, it already needed power enough to get to L2!), something big-and-buslike that maybe a Delta-II might launch to sub-GEO (although the D2's boosters clearly do not match this profile, either).
Unless I (or anybody else) happens upon a stack-shot that matches it, I think it's just an ad-hock composite. A Platonic 'form' of a rocket (or an Aristotelian one, if you prefer). But it does raise interesting questions.
...as does why "uprange" is redlinked (currently!) in the wiktionary page for "downrange". (Launching uprange into thunderstorms would be the suggestion for yet another range non-safety officer to make... :p ) 01:50, 4 January 2024 (UTC)

Is "Why do we even HAVE that position?" a throw-back to The Emporer's New Groove? Hymie (talk) 04:16, 4 January 2024 (UTC)

I doubt it's a specific reference - it's a pretty common joke - cf. 'What do we even pay you for?'

My first thought was SpaceX, e.g. the 2020-12-09 SN8 flight: https://www.google.com/search?q=spacex%20sn8%20faa

There was also some coverage of the 2022-02-03 Starlink launch which implied it would've been more prudent to "wait out the storm": https://time.com/6146986/space-x-satellites-solar-storm/, but skimming academic articles makes it sound like losing so many satellites was surprising to forecasters: https://www.google.com/search?q=february+3+2022+starlink+launch+space+weather Mikey.r (talk) 08:49, 4 January 2024 (UTC)