How Much Whale Oil Is There in Space? More Than You'd Think.

Illustration for article titled How Much Whale Oil Is There in Space? More Than Youd Think.

This is a real question. Whale oil is a wonderful industrial lubricant and remains liquid at extremely low temperatures. It was almost certainly used in some NASA technology over the decades. But how much whale oil have we sent out into the cosmos?

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While it’s more likely that NASA currently uses synthetic lubricants meant to mimic whale oil, they probably did use whale oil at some point. Whales were endangered for a reason—everyone used whale oil. Whale oil was used almost exclusively as a lubricant from the beginning of the industrial revolution until the advent of petroleum, and even after oil became something we got out of the ground instead of something we harpooned, whale oil was simply better than most industrial lubricants. It makes sense that NASA would use the most effective materials it could find.

But the amount whale oil in space depends on who you ask. Some say that the use of whale oil was occasional; one man claimed that it was only used to lubricate the shutters of spy satellites. On the other hand, in Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell states, “NASA lubed its moon landers and other remotely operated vehicles with sperm whale oil until the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986.”

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Whaling is horrible to witness, and whales should be preserved. Still, if Vowell is correct, there’s something amazing about whales—even parts of them—being on the moon. But until we can create actual space whales, though, it’s best they stay intact and in the oceans.

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DISCUSSION

The Magrathean sperm whale was a whale created from one of a pair of guided thermonuclear missiles several miles over the planet of Magrathea, after Arthur Dent initiated the use of the Infinite Improbability Drive. The probability of this occurring was 8,767,128 to 1 against. The whale has an existential life of discovery which lasts a minute before it hits the ground, leaving a large crater and whale remains.