# Nikolai

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Sr. Spacecraft Engineer
1. ## What Have You Done In real-life, Space related?

I worked on some software for a satellite dedicated to looking for Gamma Ray Bursts while I was in college. Unfortunately, the technology was quickly superseded by efforts elsewhere, and it was never launched. I'm a volunteer educator for JPL. (They let me talk to folks on space teams, and I take what I learn to museums, schools, libraries, or anywhere they'll let me talk about space.) Beyond that, the usual tourist-y stuff -- I've been to the Cape and the NASM and a handful of smaller museums with space artifacts, met Story Musgrave and Christina Koch and a few people working on various probes, and have a reasonably impressive library of technical aerospace materials and astronaut biographies.
2. ## What if Pluto was actually a gateway to the stars?

Then burn your engines toward the center of the thing as you fall. You'll leave faster than you approached. Also, if it's in orbit around the Sun and you slingshot with it, you can steal some of its (considerable, given the mass) kinetic energy and dump it into your spacecraft. But they do have the advantage of their surfaces not getting in the way as you accelerate towards the center and move through it.
3. ## Stupid Math Puzzle

The nth term can be found with (521/560)n7 - (2587/90)n6 + (43291/120)n5 - (170393/72)n4 + (2085781/240)n3 - (6369907/360)n2 + (638962/35)n - 7219, assuming I haven't screwed up and forgotten to carry a two someplace.
4. ## Good space race movies/TV shows?

A bit hard to find, but maybe 1967's Countdown, starring James Caan? It was based on the Pilgrim Project, a proposed (but never seriously considered) last-ditch plan to put a man on the Moon if it looked like the Soviets would beat us there. The plan was essentially to launch him to the Moon in a modified Mercury capsule, and then to send him supplies roughly 22 times a year until a method was devised to bring him back. EDIT: I seem to recall that the movie used a modified Gemini capsule.
5. ## Von Braun's Moon Mission

I've actually heard the term "rocketpunk" used to describe this sort of thing.
6. ## A proposal to change the definition of a planet

Good grief. My point wasn't that they need to memorize planet names so much as what the lack of memorizing planet names would do to remove space issues even further from the public consciousness. There are probably things that would work every bit as well for retaining that consciousness and leave people better informed than memorizing a bunch of names. I'd rather have that than rote memorization any day. But when a common public sentiment with regards to education is a demand that every morsel handed down be directly applicable in the things they need to devote conscious attention to in their daily lives, it can often be a struggle to convince people that space exploration confers any benefit worth considering. That's the downside I mean to point to, in the hopes that we can come up with better strategies for educating the young about space.
7. ## A proposal to change the definition of a planet

I don't disagree, but I perceive a potential downside: Children will no longer memorize the names of the planets; they might no longer even have a unit on the Solar System. This might well make space exploration seem even more irrelevant to your average human than it already does.
8. ## Help NASA to find planet nine!

Yes, I understand that; I was playing a bit loose with the term "location". The idea is that if Planet Nine exists, it must have orbits within a certain range and a mass lower than a certain amount. If further discoveries show that even those orbits cannot support a substantially massive Planet Nine, then we can reject the notion that there's something like that there.
9. ## Help NASA to find planet nine!

... or until we uncover enough data to rule it out. (Note that the size and location of Planet Nine, if it exists, are already constrained by data.) But even if we were to take this for granted, why would it necessarily be bad? We learn a lot about other things while we're looking for one thing.
10. ## What do you think the strangest animal is?

Hallucigenia, a genus from the Cambrian era that we find in formations like the Burgess Shale. It's so odd that it was debated for a long time which end was the mouth and which was the anus, as well as which side was the ventral and which side was the dorsal -- not to mention whether its mouth was in its head or whether it had a mouth at the end of each of its tentacles.
11. ## Have we landed on the moon?

And also, considering how much there is for free that you can examine beyond pictures and videos, that person would bear some blame for his own incuriosity. One might take this into account when considering how well he evaluated the situation when he "chose to believe" his conclusion.
12. ## James Webb Space Telescope

Developing, building, and testing the specific instruments and the support systems are only part of developing technological know-how. If those three things are where most of the money was spent, then by definition, most of the money was spent developing technological know-how. Yes, the goal of this mission is a successful mission -- but the goal of a space program is (in the long run) to have a high rate of successful missions, and the path to that goal may not mean that every individual mission is successful. That's why we occasionally try things that haven't been done before in an incremental way. Sometimes we learn a great deal from failure. If exploration is the goal, we will pick ourselves up and attempt to learn what we hoped to learn before the failure -- this time, hopefully, wiser.
13. ## Hidden figures | The untold true story about Katherine G. Johnson

I liked that a lot of the math they showed were genuine orbital mechanics. And I liked that this highlighted a lot of technical expertise that generally goes ignored in relating how the United States got people into space. As pointed out, it's not a documentary. I don't think Al Harrison, for example, was a real person, even though he takes up a lot of screen time. And I don't think the decision to keep Glenn's retro-pack attached was made exactly as it was shown in the film. But it's still inspiring.
14. ## James Webb Space Telescope

What are they teaching kids these days? Even if the mission fails, it's not as if it was a waste of money. The money was spent increasing our technological know-how, and that will continue to be the case even if the mission fails. It's not the gee-whiz payoff of a successful mission, I'll grant you that -- but we explore space for a lot more things than successful missions.
15. ## The Expanse technical thread

Even so -- even with decades and Epstein Drives and people saying "Gee whiz" -- if physics ruins a show for you, don't calculate how much energy this would take.