The History Channel documentary America, the Story of Us states that NASA uses whale oil in the Hubble Space Telescope.

Is there any solid evidence to confirm or dispute this claim?

  • 5
    The History Channel... What a misnomer... Apr 3, 2014 at 17:14
  • 2
    @System Down Seen anything on The Learning Channel... ? Apr 5, 2014 at 6:52

2 Answers 2


This appears to be a myth that has been repeated in the media. White it is true that whale and sperm oil have been used historically as lubricants, modern synthetic replacements exist from a variety of manufactures to include the Nye Lubricants that is mentioned in various articles as being a provider to NASA of lubricants.

At least three articles have been written fact checking the story. The first from Chemical Heritage Magazine titled "Whales in Space" reported the following,

Speculation about the use of whale oil in NASA’s machines had spread far enough by the late 1990s that the organization’s historians conducted a large-scale internal inquiry. At the time, most speculation focused on whale oil use in space shuttles, not in the Hubble telescope. Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian, recalls that researchers traced the whale-oil rumors back to Nye Lubricants. “Our Shuttle engineers had a discussion with the chief of engineering at Nye Lubricants and left that conversation convinced that whale-based oils had been ‘out of vogue for a good many years’ and had never been used on the Shuttle.” Case closed.

Since then NASA has conducted additional investigations into its other programs and has found no evidence of whale oil being used. After the History Channel documentary aired, NASA turned to Twitter to refute the recycled claim, quoting Hubble’s astrophysics systems manager: “No whale oil was used in Hubble.” But such pronouncements can’t seem to kill the story.

Some further information on the fact checking of the "Whales in Space" article is written by the fact checker who largely attributes the myth to arising out of the book "The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea" and bad fact checking on the part of its author.

  • 8
    I believe the synthetic replacements are dolphin technology, given as a "thanks for all the fish". Apr 5, 2014 at 6:48
  • @ChrisWesseling I guess it's important to have a porpoise in life.
    – GordonM
    Oct 17, 2016 at 12:58

NYE worked with melon whale oil, from a liquid wax taken from melon gland from these whales, even after certain time, they arranged their own whale processing plant, to ensure the quality of their oil. Nothing to do with sperm whale or other, perhaps except the cachalot. Towards mid-70s, the use of whale oil was banned but US govt allowed Nye to sell their remanent oil stock.

It is unprobable that Nye whale oil was used in the Hubble at that time.

Regards Alvaro


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