2559: December 25th Launch

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December 25th Launch
Update: Santa has been destroyed by the range safety officer.
Title text: Update: Santa has been destroyed by the range safety officer.


This comic was the Christmas comic of 2021.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space telescope jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. It has suffered many, many delays over its development period (as previously referenced in 2014: JWST Delays), but it finally launched on Christmas day, December 25, 2021.

This was about 7 hours after this comic appeared. The release day of this comic was Christmas Eve the 24th of December. As can be seen from when this page was created 05:02:00, 25 December 2021 (UTC), the comic came out at least 7 hours before launch which was 12:20:00, 25 December 2021 (UTC). Since Boston (Randall's home town) is 5 hours after UTC then the comic must have released close to midnight on the 24th for Randall, and clearly before midnight for the rest of the time zones in the US.

Web comics are usually drawn some time in advance. When this comic was drawn and scheduled for publication, it is possible NASA had not yet announced that the launch of JWST was slipping from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day.

The launch was probably three days after Randall opened the last number in his Webb advent calendar. (Thus this is the second Christmas comic this year referring to the telescope).

In this comic, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready to take off. However, an unfortunate circumstance occurs: Santa Claus himself, presumably on his way to or from delivering presents to children, crosses into the path of the launch rocket. The joke is the implication that, right on the brink of success, this extraordinarily unlucky incident will either destroy the telescope, harm Santa, or cause yet another delay, much to Cueball's horror.

Real launch aborts have occurred with fewer than 2 seconds left in the countdown, causing delays of over a month.

According to the title text, the range safety officer has made the decision to shoot down Santa Claus's sleigh, in order to clear the sky above, protecting the launch window. This seems to demonstrate that they are determined not to let anything delay the launch any further (or that given a choice between destroying the telescope or destroying Santa, the range safety officer chooses the latter). "Range Safety Officer" is the job title of a person in charge of the safety of a launch. Range safety officer and other similar range officers are the subject of 2876: Range Safety. That was the first comic after New Years day in 2024, so seems like Randall contemplated rocket launches around the Holidays... Also earlier in the Christmas comic of 2023 he also killed Santa using Hydrothermal Vents. Before this he has only killed Santa back in 2008 in the 2008 Christmas Special.

Airspace is normally closed to air traffic to avoid collisions between aircraft and rocket launches. While Santa might not know about such restrictions, he already knows about this particular launch because thousands of astronomy geeks have asked for a new space telescope as a Christmas present in their letters to Santa, and the easiest way for Santa to deliver such a present is just keeping a safe distance from the launch pad. Moreover NORAD tracks Santa's flying around the world and would be able to give sufficient warning to both Santa and Ground Control to prevent such a close encounter of a festive kind; as well as to prevent accidental global thermonuclear war by confusing a small herd of flying reindeer with a first-strike attack by a foreign power. Finally, Santa Claus performs deliveries overnight, while the launch is scheduled for morning local time, so the timing of such a collision would not occur.

The JWST has been referenced previously in 1730: Starshade, 2014: JWST Delays, 2447: Hammer Incident and 2550: Webb, is on the list of payloads in 1461: Payloads and its planned use was indirectly referenced in 975: Occulting Telescope. Santa is known to maintain a list of humans responsible for technological incidents and to have suitable punishment for offenders. 12 days after launch it was referenced again in 2564: Sunshield.


[Close-up of the top of the James Webb Space Telescope launch rocket. A "Webb" logo can be seen alongside other indistinct logos. Some clouds and birds are visible in the background.]
Caption: T-minus 10...9...8...
[Zoom-out to show the complete rocket and the ground below. The rocket takes up the bottom-left corner. At the top-right, Santa Claus and a line of reindeer are flying in towards the left.]
Santa: Ho ho ho!
Santa: Merry Christmas!
[Ponytail and Cueball sitting at mission control consoles.]
Cueball: Oh no.

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Santa delivers his presents on Christmas Eve. The launch is scheduled for 9:20am French Guiana time, so Santa should be long gone during the final countdown. Barmar (talk) 06:05, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

I feel like the way it's written and also the "update" in the title text is a reference to the NORAD Santa Tracker (or maybe the Google one). I'd do it myself but it's 2AM, so can someone fact check me and possibly add it to the article assuming I'm not misremembering. Thanks, Zman350x (talk) 07:20, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

Launches have been stopped many times at less than 8 seconds, and Randall would be familiar with this fact. The "unavoidable" bit of the explanation can safely (and preferably) be dropped. Given Randall's demonstrated frustration with Webb delays, the joke about the RSO shooting down Santa is almost certainly attributable to intolerance of another delay. 07:45, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

Thanks for the heads up; edited my addition. It still feels like an italicized "oh no" is too big of a reaction to a delay that's short, unique, and measurable. Maybe forcing a launch to abort at -7 seconds causes some kind of fuel combustion(??)/consumption issue that damages some of the spacecraft and requires a much longer delay? Then this could be added to the explanation. (Obviously I'm not an expert here.) Alternatively, say it takes 7 seconds to say the words in the second and third panels, so the spacecraft has already launched. Zowayix (talk) 08:16, 25 December 2021 (UTC)
Edit: Found a real example of an abort delay and added to the explanation.
I mean, it kinda feels like a “straw that broke the camel’s back” type of situation here. It’s not the incident itself, it’s everything leading up to that moment and how it probably left Cueball on edge. 08:30, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

I think there's a barb here about NASA ruining xmas for a lot of people, by slipping the launch date to 25 December. Arithex (talk) 08:58, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

As far as I know, Range Safety Officers don't have ground-to-air weapons, and are therefore incapable of shooting down Santa. when RSO's need to kill something, they use remote detonation commands. How any RSO managed to pre-place a self-destruct package aboard Santa's Sleigh remains an open question: normally they only have those placed aboard the actual rocket stages. 11:15, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

That's easy: Write Santa a letter that you want a remotely controllable self-destruct package for Christmas. It will be conveniently placed on the sleigh on December 25. This must be one of the gazillion steps on the JWST pre-launch checklist. 13:14, 25 December 2021 (UTC)
All will be revealed in the new Grinch sequel, How the Grinch Killed Christmas which details how he finds work as a Range Safety Officer. Kev (talk) 19:12, 25 December 2021 (UTC)

As far as you know. The possibility of an RSO having an FIM-92G in the backseat is low, but never zero. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

(For those as confused as I was, that's the Range Safety Officer (only a momentary confusion) and a Stinger Missile. Also adding their unsigned IP for them, for neatness.) 17:47, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

While I like the current note about Santa being aware about this launch due to astronomy geeks asking for it as a present, I would note that Santa must already have extremely good collision avoidance system considering the speed his sleight is moving (at least 650 miles per second) to manage all deliveries over single night. -- Hkmaly (talk) 03:33, 26 December 2021 (UTC)

That's assuming Santa moves with finite speed and well-defined position. Personally I'm a big fan of the time stop/time loop explanation. 03:56, 26 December 2021 (UTC)

Real launch aborts have occurred after T=0. For Ariane 5 launches T=0 is ignition of the main engines. Liftoff occurs when the solid boosters are ignited at T+6seconds. (This is different from NASA and other American launchers where T=0 is liftoff) 15:46, 27 December 2021 (UTC)

Arguably observing Santa Claus should be prioitized over launching JWST ASAP, if Santa really appear on a flying sleigh. It could lead to completely new science if it ever happens :p Lamty101 (talk) 08:51, 14 January 2022 (UTC)

It might have implications for the to-orbit industry. The speeds and other capabilities of a reindeer-guided-sleigh seem to be believed to sufficient to deliver to the ISS at the very least. But it should at least outperform LauncherOne ('only' delivering seven packages to orbit, yesterday), if not the CargoDragon/CrewDragon. 09:48, 14 January 2022 (UTC)