Epic Video Simplifies 'How to Go to Space'

MinutePhysics teamed up with the Web comic xkcd to explain how to go to space, using just the most common 1,000 words in the English language.

Randall Munroe, xkcd's creator, the first experimented with the concept while putting together a Web comic: Could he create a diagram explaining a Saturn V moon rocket, using only the simplest language? (That language didn't include "Saturn," by the way — the comic was titled "Up Goer 5.") The idea caught on quickly, prompting the Web comic's readers to write their own material and even create software that helped writers keep to just those 1,000 words. Ultimately, the experience inspired Munroe to write a whole book of the diagrams, called "Thing Explainer" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), which will be released Tuesday (Nov. 24). In that spirit, he and the MinutePhysics YouTube series creator Henry Reich whipped up this epic animated explanation of the mechanics of space travel.

The video walks viewers through concepts of gravity and orbit, rocket science and rocket construction ("If the fire end points towards space, you are having a bad problem and will not go to space today," for instance) as well as delving into what's necessary to personally go to space. (Hint: Many important people have to say "OK.")

Before the release of his new book "Thing Explainer," Munroe has also been flexing his explanatory muscles in other venues: A New Yorker article released Nov. 18, called "The Space Doctor's Big Idea," manages to explain Einstein's theories of special and general relativity using those same 1,000 words.

Before he became a Web comic artist, Munroe worked as a roboticist at NASA's Langley Research Center, and his knowledge of space shows in what he chooses to illustrate: Although "Thing Explainer" delves into topics as distant as how washing machines work, how computer data centers work and how the Earth works, he comes back to space science and technologies again and again. And like "How to Go to Space," those explanations are entertaining even to those who already know a lot about space — and likely to teach a few new things as well.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for Space.com in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.