Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hokey Smokes, Bullwinkle -- Bad Engineering

Taken by Apollo 8 crewmember Bill Anders on De...

All engineers -- young and old -- could learn a lot from Rocky and Bullwinkle, the 1960s cartoon duo. That is, you could learn from their mistakes -- they used an awful lot of really bad science. Like upsydaisyium (a rare anti-gravity mineral). And let's not forget that large reservoir in which corks sank to the bottom.

Atmospheric Oceanic and Space Sciences engineers will be interested in the episode where our hapless heroes visit "Pottsylvania" and a mooseberry pie explodes (moosberries, as all engineers know, are an unharnessed source of energy). The blast launches the stove, sending it on a wacky, zigzag trip to the moon. A stove traveling 250,000 miles, powered by moosberries? No need to say how bad THAT science is (by my calculations, mooseberries would get a stove only halfway to the moon). What turns out to be really rotten is what follows. So, back to Moose and Squirrel...

The stove arrives on the moon, where two moon men immediately send it back to Earth with themselves on board. Even aliens should be careful about what they ask for because, when they want to go home, Bullwinkle tells them that the supply of mooseberries is kaput. At that point, one of the aliens says, "Awww, I miss my home on the moon. I miss sitting on the porch in the evening and watching the Earth come up."

I hear all AOSS engineers saying, "Aha! What bad science!"

The problem is that, from the moon, you can't just sit and "watch the Earth come up." Why? Because the same side of the moon always faces Earth, so the Earth has a fixed position in the lunar sky. Those moon men would've seen either the Earth from their porch ALL the time or never -- there's no way to watch the Earth rise from the moon.

Well, that's not entirely true. The moon wobbles in its orbit (librations), which makes it possible for Earthlings to see 59 percent of the lunar surface. So it would've been possible for the moon men to see an Earthrise -- but only from a few locations and only some of the time.

Obviously, Jay ward, creator of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, wasn't an engineer or didn't care to get things right.

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