“Young Sheldon,” the spin-off series of “The Big Bang Theory,” is a delightful depiction of the Boy Genius who became the irascible Sheldon Cooper, living in 1989 East Texas in a small community south of Houston. The most recent episode, “A Patch, a Modem, and a Zantac” reveals for the first time Sheldon Cooper’s hitherto hidden role in a monumental development in space history. However, the episode needs some explaining in historical context. Some spoilers follow.

The launch equation (spoilers)

The episode starts when a NASA engineer visits Sheldon’s high school science class. He begins to explain the space agency’s plans to go to Mars, then under then-President George H.

W. Bush’s Space Exploration Initiative, and why it was likely to be so expensive. Sheldon, the ever inquisitive, asks why not land the rocket and reuse it. Even though the space shuttle was doing that very thing, the NASA guy blows off Sheldon and takes the discussion to the ever-popular how do astronauts use the bathroom in space. The space agency guy just made a big mistake.

Most of the rest of the episode consists of Sheldon solving the problem of landing a rocket after it takes off. The young boy genius has to go through elaborate gyrations to get access to a computer to complete his work. Then he has to go through even more implausible contortions to get a meeting with the NASA engineer and show his work on a chalkboard to prove they were wrong. The space agency guy is duly impressed that a nine-year-old could show him up but points out that the technology available in 1989 is still inadequate to the task.

In any case, the payoff is depicted in the video below.

Could there be a ‘Big Bang Theory’ follow-up?

Sheldon is, if he is anything, a person who likes to get credit where credit is due. If he provided the work that led to SpaceX’s remarkable feat of landing a rocket after it has flown to be reused, he would bloody well want to have that acknowledged. Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, is putting out that he and his engineers solved the problem through years of diligent work. Who is going to believe that a nine-year-old boy almost 30 years ago showed the way to the most significant revolution in rocket design since Goddard first developed the liquid-fueled engine? No one can doubt that adult Sheldon would be up to the task. So we can hope that “The Big Bang Theory” showrunners and writers will not let the opportunity pass them by.