Outer space is everywhere: Not only are we physically surrounded by it, but we’re inundated with images of it, both real and fictional. NASA’s long-lived Cassini mission is ending this week, just after its even longer-lived Voyager mission marked its 40th anniversary. SpaceX is about to launch the most powerful operational rocket in the world. Star Trek is returning to TV, The Martian author Andy Weir is returning to bookshelves, and Destiny 2 and a new Metroid release are bringing gamers back to the stars. Please join us at The Ringer as we celebrate and explore the cultural resonance and science of space all week long.
When the Patriots beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl in February, I was sitting in the stadium with my dad. It was a tremendous experience, truly. Neither of us had ever been to a Super Bowl, and so that was one reason, and certainly it was one of the most compelling Super Bowls of all time, and so that was another reason. But also it was just cool to be there with my actual and real dad and spend time with just me and him, which is not something we’d done very much of over, like, the previous two decades. The whole thing was great, and wonderful, and I loved it.
THAT SAID, it may not even be the best part of the weekend, because maybe the best part of the weekend happened the day before. Me and another person from The Ringer (his name is Collin and you’ve probably never seen him because he keeps to the shadows but trust me when I tell you he is very handsome) got invited to participate in this behind-the-scenes tour of NASA. It was truly incredible. We met a real astronaut, got to climb inside of a real spaceship, got to go into the control center where people were for the first trip to the moon, and got to go to the control center where people are now for every space trip, which included an in-real-time streaming feed of the astronauts and satellite in space at that very moment. I love space. L-O-V-E love it. It is fascinating, and something I spend far too much time thinking about and being intimidated by. Which is why I like rockets so much (because that’s how you get to space) (sort of). Which is why the rest of this article is just the 31 best rockets, ranked (because rockets are cool) (definitely). Thank you.
The 31 Best Rockets, Ranked
31. That movie RocketMan. Let me tell you right now that Beyoncé’s “Rocket” is not anywhere on this list. Please get all of your madness out right now before moving on.
30. The pendulum rocket fallacy. This is a smart thing about why a rocket flies straight or doesn’t fly straight (or something). I’m not so sure. But I’ve found that if you just drop phrases like “pendulum rocket fallacy” into ordinary conversations, everyone thinks you’re way smarter than you actually are.
29. Rocket (the leaf). I’m also a guy who knows that rocket is a kind of leaf.
28. Rocket Mortgage. I’m at least a tiny bit embarrassed by how much I know about mortgages and the nature of mortgage loans. Feels like it’s some sort of tell on how I stopped chasing my dreams. I thought I was going to grow up to be a professional basketball player or a professional stuntman or something cool like that. Instead, I ended up being a guy who understands the mechanics of a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage.
27. When people use the term “pocket rocket” and they’re talking about those little motorcycles that were real popular a few years ago. Somehow more off-putting than the no. 26 entry.
26. When people use the term “red rocket” and they’re talking about a dog’s erection. Really gross.
25. Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. Watch this clip of him in returning a kick in college, which is a thing that he was truly special and gifted at. He should’ve been tackled about three separate times. It’s incredible that he wasn’t.
24. The dog that the shoe brand Rocket Dog was named after. I don’t know this dog, but I love this dog.
23. When people use the term “Red Rocket” and they’re talking about former professional basketball player Matt Bonner. The fact that the best play of Matt Bonner’s career is a LeBron James layup is honestly the most Matt Bonner–y thing I can think of.
22. When Takeoff said, “Niggas pocket watching / so I gotta keep the rocket” on “T-Shirt.” There are loads of other times when a rapper has said the word “rocket.” Each time, like this one, it was either a reference to a gun or to a penis. Very rarely has it ever been about an actual rocket. I wish rappers rapped more about real rockets.
21. The rockets mentioned in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Did you know that at Houston Rockets home games everyone in the stadiums screams very loudly when whoever it is that’s singing the national anthem that night sings the word “rockets”? It’s neat.
20. When Bruno Mars referred to his penis as a rocket on “24K Magic.”
19. The rocket ship from the TV show Little Einsteins. My youngest kid watches this show. The only reason it makes it this high up the list is because people started making dance videos using the theme song. Also: Leo. Leo’s great.
18. When you’re playing poker and you get dealt two aces. It’s the best starting hand possible. They refer to it as “rockets.”
17. Crotch rockets. (I’m talking about that version of sport motorcycles.)
16. When Young Thug said, “I am a rocket, rocket” in “Power.” My favorite thing about Young Thug is that I’m almost certain when he said he was a rocket here he genuinely, legitimately, honestly thought he was a literal and actual rocket.
15. Roger “Rocket” Clemens.
14. Otto Rocket from the TV show Rocket Power. If I’m being totally honest, I suppose it’s his caution-to-the-wind lifestyle that was most alluring. He was a character who—if we’re looking at a macro view of television and the arc of animated characters as it relates to the subjugation of human tendencies—you could very easily claim to be an ideal example of the pendulum rocket fallacy.
13. Regina Rocket from the TV show Rocket Power. She was the only one who had any kind of common sense.
12. The song “Rocket Ride” by Kiss. If you decide that you’re going to wear face paint while doing a thing, then you’re either going to be among the very best to do what you’re doing (Kiss, the wrestler Sting) or among the very worst (Insane Clown Posse, Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger). There are no middle-of-the-road face-paint people. It’s simply too controversial of a move to allow for plain mediocrity.
11. The Houston Rockets franchise. You can move them up or down the list based on the year you’re talking about. This year they are firmly at the 11 spot.
10. When Lil Wayne said, “It ain’t rocket science, just rockets,” on “Grindin.’” The next line in that song is “I sleep in pussy, not pajamas,” which is less difficult to understand than rocket science, though no less incredible.
9. The phrase “It’s not rocket science.” Considerably better than actual rocket science, which is difficult to understand though incredible.
8. That movie The Rocketeer. Where’s the remake?
7. The time Herbie Hancock performed “Rockit” at the 1984 Grammys. Look.
6. Bottle rockets. (I’m talking about the fireworks.) (Bottle rockets are the best of all the different kinds of fireworks.) (The only time bottle rockets weren’t cool was one time when I was in the seventh grade and a kid on my street lit one and then threw it at me.)
5. Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy. It surprises me every time that I remember that he’s voiced by Bradley Cooper.
4. The rocket that the guy shoots at the car in Desperado. Two things: (1) This movie came out in 1995. 1995 was a good year for rockets. (2) If you’d like to swap this rocket out with the rocket that John Creasy fires at the people working with the kidnappers in Man on Fire, then that’s fine. Both of those instances were truly revolutionary rocket-launcher movie moments. Others that were good but not quite on the level of Desperado and Man on Fire: when Jamie Foxx used the rocket launcher in White House Down; when Frank Castle hit the parkour guy with a rocket in The Punisher; when Jim arranged for Dwight Schrute to use the bazooka as part of Dwight’s bachelor party; and when Michael Douglas used the rocket launcher in Falling Down.
3. 1995 Hakeem Olajuwon. I will never forgive him for what he did to my beloved David Robinson that year in the playoffs, but I will also never not be in awe of it.
2. An actual rocket. Rockets are fucking cool.
1. The song “Rocket Man” by Elton John. It’s not only the best rocket-based song, but also it’s the best song that makes reference to any kind of propulsive mode of transportation, just barely beating out “Bennie and the Jets.” (Jets.) (Jet.) (A jet.) (Get it?)