That Time I Drank with Gene Cernan, the Last Man on the Moon

Cernan from the Gemini 9 crew portrait, with those icy blue eyes… Credit: NASA

In all his official NASA portraits, Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan looks slightly terrifying. All the Apollo-era astronauts were photographed unsmiling, almost like they were trying to confirm to tax paying Americans that these national heroes took their jobs deadly seriously. But Cernan somehow looks more serious than most; he looks like a man with a natural commanding physical presence. In November of 2013 I found myself in a bar with Gene Cernan, and though he was closing in on 79 at the time, he still had that cold, icy stare from his official portraits half a century earlier. It was exactly the quietly commanding presence I’d always imagined he’d have. That wasn’t the only time I met the last man on the Moon, but with the news of his passing today, I thought it worth sharing that super weird night I went to a bar with Gene Cernan.  Continue reading “That Time I Drank with Gene Cernan, the Last Man on the Moon”


Would NASA Tell Us About Alien Contact?

brookings-smallHumans don’t always have the most rational or measured responses to technological innovation or even change. This isn’t recent revelation about people; NASA knew this very early in its history and also knew it would have to consider the impacts space exploration would have on the wider American public. And so, in 1959, the agency contracted public policy organization the Brookings Institution to design a long-term research program into the social, economic, political, legal, and international implications of space exploration. And also what to do if it found alien life. Continue reading “Would NASA Tell Us About Alien Contact?”

Can a Wood Heat Shield Really Work?

wood-hs-bigAbout two years ago I geeked out pretty hard when I was invited to a B612 foundation event at Steve Jurvetson’s office. Not only is the space filled with the most incredible collection of space memorabilia you can possibly imagine, there were astronauts in attendance. Including Ed Lu, a three-time astronaut and all- around lovely guy. And in the course of cocktail conversation he told me about the strangest technological innovation I’d ever heard of: China’s wooden heat shield. And I finally looked into the story! Continue reading “Can a Wood Heat Shield Really Work?”

What’s the Best Kind of Rocket Fuel?

The Saturn V starts leaving the Earth. (NASA)

Generally speaking, a rocket is a rocket, and rocket science is really just a matter of controlling and harnessing a fast expansion of gas to turn it into propulsion. But there are different kinds of propulsion for different kinds of rockets, and some have benefits over others depending on where you’re going.  Continue reading “What’s the Best Kind of Rocket Fuel?”

Vintage Space is Back!


Hello everyone who probably thought they’d never get an update from this blog ever again… surprise! Vintage Space joined Popular Science’s blog network when it launched two years ago, and I loved being a part of an awesome network at an amazing place, but we got some sad news a couple of weeks ago: the Editor-in-Chief has decided to shut down the blog network. I’m looking for a new home for Vintage Space, but in the meantime I’m coming back to my roots at this WordPress site that can’t be hacked like my last one was!

And of course, there are tons of other places to find my work online! The biggest one, by far, is my YouTube channel. It’s the companion to this blog with short videos about topics I dig into in longer articles. You can also find my daily on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and podcast coming soon via Radio Misfits! You can, of course, also find my first book, Breaking the Chains of Gravity on Amazon or signed on my website. And if you love Vintage Space in all its incarnations you can help me make even more great content by supporting my Patreon!

So be sure to subscribe to this blog for all the updates and new posts, and of course if I have any news about exciting upcoming events or a new home for Vintage Space I’ll be posting it here. The Vintage Space archive from PopSci will stay online, so I’ll urge you guys to check that out instead of the now-embarrassingly old posts archived here… Oh the joys of having everything archived as you become a better writer!

See you wonderful readers around the Internets!

Vintage Space’s New Home

Vintage Space has moved! I’ve finally built my own website at and my blog is now hosted there at – the labeled picture of Charlie Duke (left) is linked to Vintage Space on my new homepage. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to move email and subscribers over to my new site. So, to keep getting regular space history articles and tidbits from Vintage Space, follow the link to my blog’s new home and resubscribe. And while you’re there, check out my latest article about the EVA (spacewalk) that came as a surprise to the American public and most of NASA.

The Upcoming Transit of Venus

This June, Venus is going to make a rare transit across the disk of the sun as observed from Earth. Transits of Venus are rare. They come in pairs eight years apart, but each pair is separated by 105.5 years or 125.5 years. The upcoming transit is the pair to one that occurred in 2004, so if you miss this one you won’t have a chance to see another until 2117.  (Left, three views of the 2004 transit.)

Since it’s highly unadvisable to look directly at the sun, watching a transit is best done with protective eye gear or by looking at the sunlight reflected off something. That’s what the Hubble Space Telescope is going to do. Like us, Hubble can’t look directly at the sun, so its going to observe the transit of Venus by measuring the light reflected off the Moon. It’s an amazing method, and the observations Hubble makes will go towards answering questions about our planet and our place in the Universe. Read the full story about Hubble’s plans for the transit of Venus at Discovery News.

Was NASA’s First Launch Delay its Most Significant?

In January 1961, the pieces of the manned spaceflight puzzle were slowly coming together. NASA had a capsule, astronauts to ride inside it, and rockets to launch it. The capsule had even successfully launched on top of the rocket. The missing piece was the go-ahead for astronauts to launch inside a capsule, but flight surgeons and rocket engineers were playing it safe. Had they been a little more bold, Alan Shepard could have been history’s first man in space. Instead, Wernher von Braun’s concern that his rocket might explode and kill an astronaut delayed Shepard’s launch and secured his position as the first American in suborbital space. (Left, Alan Shepard on the morning of his May 5, 1961 suborbital flight.) Continue reading “Was NASA’s First Launch Delay its Most Significant?”

Apollo 12’s Electrifying Launch

At 11:22 in the morning on Friday November 14, 1969, Apollo 12 launched from Kennedy Space Centre towards the Ocean of Storms on the near side of the Moon. It was a nominal launch, at least for the first 37 seconds. Then all hell broke loose, threatening to end the mission before it had even begun. (Left, the view of Apollo 12 on its Saturn V just before liftoff after NASA had committed to the launch. The dark skies and rainy weather are clearly visible in this shot.) Continue reading “Apollo 12’s Electrifying Launch”

Can Russia Save ExoMars?

The latest budget for NASA for FY 2013 sees the agency’s Mars exploration program taking a huge hit – it will get $318 million less than FY 2012. This funding cut has forced NASA to withdraw from the ExoMars, the joint mission with the European Space Agency designed to culminate with a sample return. Without NASA, ExoMars is left in pieces and ESA is hoping the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos will take NASA’s place. This partnership could be without payoff since neither country has had great luck with Mars, particularly Russia whose missions have been thwarted by the mythical galactic ghoul. NASA’s withdrawal brings other questions to the forefront as well, like whether the agency has lost its way and will it soon lose its prestige in space. My whole article on the subject was published yesterday on Nature’s Soapbox Science Blog. (Left, an artist’s concept of ESA’a Beagle 2 falling through the Martian atmosphere.)