On a recent episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson said:

And to this day NASA will still report the power of rockets in horsepower, which is completely absurd, because no matter how many horses you string together, they will not elevate into space.So it just doesn’t make any sense!

Question: Is it true? Does NASA still report the power of rockets in horsepower?

Is this in press briefings, or educational material, or scientific literature?

cued at 04:35:

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Why not, it's a unit of power people are familiar with. They use other absurd units such as inches and lbf $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Mar 7 '20 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JCRM I suppose because power is not a useful unit for launch vehicles. The question here is about does or doesn't, not should or shouldn't. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7 '20 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ It (or power/weight) is useful to get a feeling of just how much energy is being processed by such a small device. $\endgroup$
    – ikrase
    Mar 7 '20 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ follow-up: How did NASA calculate 22 million “rocket horsepower” for the SLS Booster? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 8 '20 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe this question can be rephrased to "does NDGT use humor as a rhetorical device?". $\endgroup$ Mar 9 '20 at 12:45

Yes, part of NASA's function is public outreach. As such they will use units such as "Aircraft Carriers$^1$" "School Buses$^2$" and "horsepower$^3$"

While not precise, expressing thrust in terms of horsepower notionally allows people to understand it more.

1: [...] horsepower [...]
2: [...] horsepower [...]
3: [...] horsepower [...]

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Yes, for PR purposes only. $\endgroup$ Mar 7 '20 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I've just asked How does NASA calculate "rocket horsepower"? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7 '20 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ In Stack Exchange, link-only answers are discouraged. If the link breaks, the answer becomes useless. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7 '20 at 14:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The content of the links is unimportant (all three mention horsepower) They're merely recent examples. If they do disappear, that may mean the answer has changed. $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Mar 7 '20 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ It shouldn't be necessary for each reader to go off-site three times to get the answer to the question. Link-only answers are always discouraged in SE and actively discouraged here in Space SE. It's a long-standing policy. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7 '20 at 14:49

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