Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Episode 158: Rocket Science Show Notes

 Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 158: It's Not Rocket Science

Record Date: May 29, 2022

Air Date: June 1, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook

Have you ever been in a situation where you were trying to learn a new concept from someone and you weren’t quite getting it? Maybe you were overcomplicating things. Or perhaps trying to understand how that new concept would fit into our complex world? The person teaching you might have been inclined to tell you… “It’s not rocket science!”

I’ve heard this a time or two. I suppose I tend to be a bit of an over-thinker. That tendency is probably a big part of why I love doing this podcast so much. I almost always have thoughts that begin with, “But what about….?” This can be of benefit. I’m pretty good at research, for one. It can also be exhausting and a little bit silly. Get the basics… then move on to rocket science! 


According to Cambridge Dictionary online, it’s not rocket science is 


used to say that you do not think that something is very difficult to do or to understand:

Example - My coach always said, "Basketball is not rocket science. It's about putting the ball in the basket." 

For me, learning the skills necessary for basketball is much more difficult than learning rocket science. I think everyone just has different things that make sense to them. 

In this dictionary, Merriam-Webster, the figurative use is presented as the second usage - a primary meaning of the term. 

Merriam-Webster shares this definition for the term rocket science


the science of designing or building rockets 

also: something that is very difficult to learn or understand 

Example - The job is challenging, but it's not exactly rocket science.

End quote 

To me this is interesting, and it turns out that it’s actually the phrase or term Rocket Science that we’ll be tracking. 

Alright, because we are that nerdy, we are going to dig in a little here. But come on, it’s difficult to not be nerdy when we’re talking about rockets. Some initial thoughts… 

How long have rockets been around? 

How long have they been called rockets? 

How long has rocket science been a thing? 

Well, let’s explore. 

The Smithsonian is a great resource for this information. From the National Air and Space Museum segment titled, The First Fireworks: Origins of the Rocket


A closer examination of the earliest history of the basic rocket, a gunpowder-propelled device developed in China around 900 years ago, suggests that it originated as an accidental discovery rather than as a deliberately planned invention. Although we still do not know who first made the rocket, nor when nor how it was devised, there has been a long-held and commonly accepted belief that it originated in China during the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD). 

End quote 

Based on the research of many, many experts, it seems that these earliest rockets were used more for entertainment purposes than as a form of weaponry or conveyance. 

Okay, we’re going to jump forward. A lot. There’s no way to cover the history of rockets through to today, so we’ll just get to some significant portions concerning the English language. 

NASA has a ton of resources online for educators. These include teaching materials and do-it-yourself guides for creating a lesson or podcast. There is a collection focusing on rocket science and the following is shared under the section Rocket Science Background Information. 


Have you heard the saying, "It's not rocket science?" Some people think rocket science is a difficult subject to understand. When someone says, "It's not rocket science," they mean that something is not too difficult. Rocket scientists are brilliant people, but rocket science is based on concepts you probably already understand. The same basic science concepts and laws work in both huge NASA rockets and small paper ones. 

So if you want to learn about rockets, this might be the place to start. NASA also shares a short little biography about Dr. Robert H. Goddard. According to the article, Goddard is known as the father of modern rocket propulsion and they reference the work “Liquid Propellant Rocket Development,” was published by the Smithsonian in 1936 which covered Goddard’s progress in the field. 

To give an idea of his significance, here are a few highlights. He explored the practicality of using rocket propulsion to reach high altitudes, even the moon as early as 1912. Just two years later in 1914, he received a U.S. patent for a multi-stage rocket. He also proved that a rocket will work in a vacuum, that it needs no air to push against. And he developed and fired a liquid fuel rocket on March 16, 1926 from his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. There’s so much more he did and it’s cool to read about if it’s your thing. So we’ll share a link. 

What we know so far is the existence and practice of rocket science as we know it today was definitely around by the early 1900s - This idea of rocket science involves the conception, design, and building of rockets that can carry things and/or people quickly or far distances including high into Earth’s atmosphere and beyond. 

In the Evening star. July 21, 1929 out of Washington, D.C., an article was published titled


End quote

It is quite fascinating to look back at the things that we thought would be the most beneficial or practically applicable at a former time. 

Here is another usage, this time with the term being used a somewhat comedic and clunky manner. This is from the magazine Popular Mechanics in the March 1932 edition from an article by G. H. Davis titled, From Europe to New York by Rocket? Shall We Soon be Sending Mail Across Ocean in Twenty-Five Minutes? 


End quote 

In the September 1940 edition of Popular Science Monthly, in the segment Laboratory News is a feature titled New Experiments with Rockets. One section gives a little insight into how the general public understood rocket science at the time. This excerpt is a little lengthy, but gives a great representation of the big boost in popularity for the term. 


End quote 

The journal., March 13, 1958, Image 10

About The journal. (Caldwell, Ohio) 1934-1961 

The Arizona post. [volume], June 13, 1958, from Tucson, Arizona 


Engineering Extension Series (Purdue University. Dept. of Engineering Extension) 


It is not rocket science . Organizational transformation through a quality system is really what quality is all about . Transforming the organization . Get back to basics .

End quote 

Before we get to our modern uses, we’d like to take a moment to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

If you want to help create Bunny Trails week after week, whatever your budget, we are bunnytrailspod on Patreon. 


Modern Uses

It's Not Rocket Science is a novel by Ben Miller published in 2012. From the Publisher:


Black holes. DNA. The Large Hadron Collider. Ever had that sneaking feeling that you are missing out on some truly spectacular science?

You do? Well, fear not, for help is at hand.

End quote

Ben Miller was working on his Physics PhD at Cambridge when he accidentally became a comedian. But first love runs deep, and he has returned to his roots to share with you all his favourite bits of science. This is the stuff you really need to know, not only because it matters but because it will quite simply amaze and delight you.

'Let me show you another, perhaps less familiar side of Science; her beauty, her seductiveness and her passion. And let's do it quickly, while Maths isn't looking' - Ben Miller

End quote 

This is (not) Rocket Science is a rather technical piece by Lucio Di Jasio published in 2015. I’m tempted to think the title is a joke since the word not is in parentheses. So, it IS rocket science? Either way, it is beyond my knowledge. From the back cover.


"The introduction of the Core Independent Peripherals represents a major shift in the way PIC® microcontroller solutions can be developed today. While low-end 32-bit MCUs, competing for the same applications space, are suggesting an ever stronger focus on software (meaning more code, more complexity) and require higher clock speeds, the Core Independent Peripherals philosophy is based on the use of autonomous and directly interconnected hardware peripheral blocks. You will achieve more while reducing software complexity, delivering faster response times at lower clock speeds using less power!"

End quote 

I found the song by Vaultboy called Rocket Science which premiered it’s official music video in November of 2021. Here are some of the lyrics


It's three in the morning

Where did the time go?

I wanna know

I wanna know

If you wanna go to bed now or if you don't

I wanna know

I wanna know

If you've been hatin', hesitatin'

This is something different

Baby, it isn't rocket science

Why are we complicatin' it?

We got a chemistry I'm likin'

And I'm feelin' good about giving it

'Cause baby, it isn't rocket science

Even when it feels like it is

I know your heart's beating like mine is

We don't gotta hide it

Baby, it's not rocket science

End quote 

Wrap up...

Okay, let's be sure if we use this phrase, we're doing it in the supportive, kind, helpful way. Let’s just decide we won’t use this phrase to tell someone they are not intelligent or in frustration. But there is a time and place for everything, right? Some people get all wrapped up in their heads and overcomplicate things. I don't personally know anyone like that. Kidding with that one! I’m 100% that person. And the thing I want all of you to know who keep telling me it’s not rocket science… is … thank you. Please keep telling me. But in a super gentle, loving way. Because sometimes it feels like it’s definitely rocket science!



That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website


Poll time! 

Recently, we asked our Patrons, 

You go to a traditional American cook-out. What are you eating?

We’ve got Hamburger/Cheeseburger topping the list with baked beans as a clearly all-important side.


Is it a side if it ranks above the other meats and main dishes?


It didn’t rank higher, just the same as burgers. Following burgers and baked beans is Brats/Wurst and hot dogs. Then corn on the cob and potato salad.


Additional items from the comments came from Jan who wrote: 


There will probably be a bag of Doritos there, maybe some watermelon, and a beer.

End Quote

Emily agreed, adding:


Watermelon, yes @jan!

Also, barbecue flavor potato chips.

End Quote


Oh, I'll maow through some chips during a BBQ. I love Doritos, Sun Chips, and a variety of jalapeno or BBQ chips.


Well, if you’ve ever wanted to take part in our polls, it’s easy! Patrons of all levels can answer them, with new ones posting every Thursday. Head over to to find this week’s version!

One quick programming note, we’ll be taking a break for the rest of the month of June. You can check out our back catalog of over 150 episodes wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll see you all back again on July 6. 



Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next month. Until then remember, 


Words belong to their users. 

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